Educating the Educator
In the last issue, I related several stories to you about what I call functional illiterates from the consumer side of the issue. This time I am going to relate some shocking situations I was in while working for a school district back in the late-seventies and early-eighties.
Fall term of 1976 I was doing my practice teaching at a junior high. I taught seventh-grade history and science. The first day I was to meet with the principal. He gave me a lecture about how "certain students" should be ignored and I shouldnít waste my time with them. He never came out and told me what specific students he was referring to.
By way of format, I prepared had to prepare the lesson plans and they had to be approved by the teacher of that class. Also, while teaching, the teacher was there to observe me at all times. The very first day, I explained the assignment to the students then inquired if they had any questions. A few students raised their hand. I called on Rusty, I will never forget his name, and he asked a question. Before I could reply, the teacher at the back of the room said loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, "You were told to ignore the dummies. Go on to the next person." I was shocked but went ahead and called on another student. Her question was identical to Rustyís. The teacher then said aloud that her question was a good one and deserved an answer! It didnít take long for me to figure out that it was the slow learners that I was supposed to ignore. I didnít agree with this at all, but my teaching credentials were on the line so I told my professor about the situation. He advised that unfortunately he had no control over the situation and just to do my best. At the end of the term, I met with my professor for my evaluation. Imagine, under the "Negative Comments" section, the teacher had written "Spends time with slow learners."
Two years later I had my first real job in a school. Although this middle school was in the same city as the junior high I did my practice teaching, it was in a different school district. I worked there for the next seven years. This district was quite unusual in the economic make-up. The school was comprised of students ranging from families on welfare all the way up to children of General Motors executives. In many cases, I found that it was the children of the higher-income parents that created the most problems. The lower-income familes tended to spend more time together and cooperated with the school to keep their children in line.
My first term of the school year, I ran into a problem. One student did not turn in any homework the entire term. Also, when it came to quizzes and tests, all he did was write his name on the paper and did not answer any questions. I gave him several warnings, advised the principal and school counselor, sent letters to his home, left messages on his parentís answering machine several times, and even telephoned them at their place of work. They always told me they were busy and took my name and number and told me that they would call me back later. They never did return the calls. They also never attended the parent-teacher conferences. At the end of the term I gave this student an F. Sure enough, two days after report cards were issued, his parents demanded a meeting with me. The student, both of his parents, the principal, school counselor, and I were at the meeting. The parents demanded to know why I had flunked their son. I was dumbfounded to say the least. The principal jumped in and told them why and asked them why they hadnít responded to the school notifications before. What they said next stunned us all. The parents informed us that it was the teacher's responsibility to teach the students, not theirs, and that since I failed to teach their son anything, I should be fired! The school administration backed me up, so the parents moved their son to a different school.
It was a spring day and I was walking the halls looking for students who should have been in class. There, in one corner of a hallway, was an eighth-grade boy sitting on the floor and crying. This was not a boy that had ever skipped a class before and received good grades. I approached him and cautiously asked him if he needed any help. He then told me the problem. His father had demanded that he be held back in the eighth-grade. I was puzzled. His grades were mostly A's and a few B's. His attendance was great and he had never been sent to the principalís office for misbehaving. The student then told me that his father wanted him to play football on the high school varsity team. By holding him back, the son would be larger and heavier than the rest of the ninth-grade students and thus stand a better chance of making the team. The student, of course, was upset. He told me that he didnít want to be held back because then all of his friends he had known since Kindergarten would be going to another school. Also, he hated playing football. He only played it to please his father. The school administration refused to hold the boy back. The father pulled him out of that school and enrolled him in a different school district Ė in the eighth-grade.
Another day I was in the school gymnasium monitoring the students. A sixth-grade girl was off by herself and crying. I slowly approached her and asked her if there was anything I could do to help. She handed me her report card. It had all Aís and one A minus. I was confused. The girl then told me that her parent's rule was that she had to have all A's or she would be grounded for the next term because she had not studied enough. I reminded her that she did have all Aís. She responded that it was the A minus that would get her grounded. They all had to be straight Aís. Anything less would result in her being grounded. Imagine the stress she was under. I then went to the teacher that gave her the A minus and related to him what the girl had told me. He agreed with me and changed the grade to a straight A.
Over a period of time, I had overheard a sixth-grade student relating how she received an allowance of $500 a month. That's even more than some adults were earning by working full time! (This was 1983.) Her parents were both executives at General Motors. As time went on I learned that her allowance was to not only cover going to movies, school functions, etc., but she also had to buy her own groceries and clothes. She also had to fix her own meals and do her laundry. A maid came in once a week to clean house. Her parents were seldom at home. They went out to dinner every night, routinely attended several social functions, and flew off to some resort or another on weekends; All without their daughter! (This was way before the "Home Alone" movies.) As time went on, I discovered that, despite her high allowance, she was always broke. When "payday" came, her so-called friends would constantly "borrow" money from her and never pay it back. I tried suggesting to her that she not loan any more money to her friends. Her reply was that if she didnít, she wouldnít have any friends. This was a downright shame on all counts. I wonder what she grew up to be.
The following story I consider to be the most disturbing incident while I worked at that school:
One day, while on lunch duty, I was outdoors in the school yard keeping my eye on the students. I walked by a bench with three students on it. All three were eighth-graders - two girls and one boy. As I was walked past the bench, I overheard a few key words that perked my ears. The conversation went something like this:
Girl One: "Can you come over to my house today after school."
Girl Two: "I canít. Iím grounded."
Boy: "What did you do to get grounded?"
Girl Two: "Last night I took a bottle of Momís pills to kill myself."
Boy: "What happened?
Girl Two: "My parents took me to the emergency room and had my stomach pumped out."
Girl One: "What did your parents say about it?"
Girl Two: "They told me that I was grounded for 3 months and if I ever tried it again I would be grounded for six months."
Boy: "Did your parents ask you any questions about it?"
Girl Two: "No. They just told me I was grounded."
I reported this conversation to the school counselor. The last I heard was that the girl's parents told him that it was none of his business. Where was child protective services?