I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

“What Are You Lookin’ at, Cracker!”

One day in the life of a local, inner-city elementary school.  A Norman Rockwell painting it ain't...

As was her usual method of venting frustration, this fourth grade girl left her classroom, came out into the hallway, leaned against the wall, and began to kick against the wall as hard as she could while flailing her hands side to side-creating a loud ruckus that disrupted the entire fourth/fifth grade wing of the school.  According to those familiar with this school and this student, this is a daily event.
After a couple of moments, a passing adult stopped to see what was going on.                                                 

The young girl looked at this adult that had stopped and said “What are you lookin’ at, Cracker?”

The adult ignored that and asked the girl “Where are you supposed to be?” but the girl wouldn't answer the question.
“Where are you supposed to be?" the adult again asked

“Shut up!” the girl exclaimed loudly.

At this point, two teachers came from nearby classrooms to address the issue.  One, a soft-spoken female, asked the girl to return to class.  “No!”  Said the girl.  “I hate this school, I don’t want to be here! -- I want to go to Lakeview”

(This school has two “behavior technicians”-however they were both inundated handling other student misbehavior issues.  On this one recent day at this one school, one young 3rd grade student was cuffed and taken into police custody for reasons unknown, and one kindergarten boy punched a kindergarten girl in the face, injuring her to a point where she was bleeding profusely…this in 

addition to the typical, garden variety problems an inner city school faces on a daily basis)  One of the behavior techs already had ten (10) other students in his office; he was trying his best to get them handled, but he was overrun…)

Eventually, after verbally berating multiple adults, calling one “fat” and another “ugly”- this female, wall-knocking student returned to class-- begrudgingly.  After she disrupted the learning taking place in six adjacent classrooms—robbing all the other students of precious learning time—she finally went back into her own classroom.

At this one school in our Escambia County district-there has been incredible teacher churn over the last few years.  From 2011-2012 to today, more than 60% of the staff has left.  Subs are hard to get.  Parental involvement has plummeted.  Teacher engagement with families is difficult.  “I’m having a hard enough time just trying to engage my students, let alone the parents!?!” One exasperated 4th grade teacher quipped recently...

Meanwhile, in order to address the behavior and provide services to students like the wall-knocker described above—the onus is on teachers to carefully document multiple steps over time, carefully and thoroughly documenting all incidents.  In addition to this, specific strategies must be followed, step by step, in order to allow for district services to be made available to such disruptive students.  These strategies and steps, previously referred to as Response to Intervention (RTI) have been renamed Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS).  Essentially, these specific steps and all the associated paperwork must be filled out for each student.  By the teacher.  The paperwork, and the steps, must be carried out with fidelity in order for students to be referred for services.  One teacher said “I’ve got 10 students in my class that are behavior problems-am I supposed to do all these steps for each of these students??!!”   According to a dean that works at one of our inner-city schools, the process takes a minimum of 6 weeks--if the teacher faithfully goes through the steps of the process and documents all the incidents.

So the concern I have is this:  Do all the other students, teachers, and adults have to endure students that are out-of-control for a minimum of six weeks before such students can be served??  That sounds like a totally broken, dysfunctional way to address daily atmosphere destroyers like wall-knocker.

Add to this the unwritten political correctness guidelines that eschew strong discipline for certain minority students (to placate radical social justice organizations that mistakenly accuse us of racism based upon discipline, suspension, and expulsion statistics presented out of context) and another layer of problems envelopes the already feckless protocol for removing unruly students from some of our schools.  And this burns teachers out...

One teacher from another elementary school summed up the tedious process of having disruptive students removed when she states “We don’t have time to do it, there is no time!  Every minute of my day is consumed, right down to the number of minutes allotted for me to take my students to the bathroom and back and forth to lunch!”

There are at least 8 elementary schools in our district like the one mentioned above.  Poverty-stricken communities, apathetic parents, and children that have massive behavior issues. 

A Norman Rockwell painting of teaching in an elementary school this aint’t!

Meanwhile--the teachers are being squeezed like never before, between school leadership that rotates yearly or every two years or so, thereby creating massive leadership vacuums, district leadership that at best minimizes these conditions or blames the teachers for not faithfully following protocols--or at worst ignores the issue.   Apathy from leadership toward the plight of these teachers on the front lines is common.  I’ve seen it and heard it at workshops and meetings.  Too far removed from the realities on the ground in some of these schools, it appears.  

Add to this backdrop the massive morale-killing state tests that have dropped the overall evaluation scores for some teachers-and this is a developing storm that is going to overtake some schools if not addressed. 

One teacher who had excellent evaluations was recently told that when her student scores were factored in, her score dropped to just “one level above the bottom score!”  This teacher was devastated, stating “I haven’t even had most of these students very long, and their low scores are being used against me! Who is going to ever come and work here if this is going to happen--and we're going to be held responsible for this?"

Because so many students in these schools move frequently from school to school, and if the scores of these students are used against the “latest” teacher teaching these students-this almost seems as if it is an incredibly unfair, cruel game of musical chairs…with the last teacher getting bumped out of the game.   

This teacher's principal, when braking the bad news to her about her lowered evaluation said, “I’m sorry, I know this was not your fault”

Morale is at an all-time low among some teachers-but does anyone know?  Does anyone care?

I have advocated that we give teachers at these inner-city  schools apay increase/supplement to better support the extreme circumstances they face.  I’m not the only one who knows this is an absolute must, in order to keep good teachers at these schools.  Joel Klein (former chancellor at NYC public schools) stated this at a recent conference I attended in Washington DC.  Klein stated “You have to give more money to teachers at challenging environments, otherwise you’ll lose them.” We need to do it here locally or we, too, will lose them.  But we’re not acting.  Worse yet, we’re already losing them. 

Now there are parent initiated lawsuits moving through the courts, focused on some districts' liability in failing to equitably distribute high performing teachers to all schools.  Just wait until that dam breaks open...the lawyers will have a field day. Failure in this endeavor could end up costing districts like Escambia if such litigation is initiated here.  WE MUST be proactive in this. We need to value teachers so they don't quit.  There is no alternative.  

The husband of one third grade teacher summed it up to me recently in a conversation I had with him when he stated

”She is going to quit.  All she does is work, she is up at that school late every day all day on Saturday, she is constantly working at home, and she never has any time to herself.  They micromanage her with B.S. requirements and she is burning out.  She is going to quit unless something changes—it’s not worth it to my family to lose her for $2,000 a month after tax and deductions.  She will quit, I’ll force her to, unless these conditions change!” (this teacher works at one of our suburban schools, not an inner-city school)

Something has to give, something has to change, or these schools will continue to struggle.  It all starts with leadership.  Leadership that treats teachers humanely and professionally, supports them, handles severe discipline problems, and values what these teachers are doing day in, day out.

Sadly, there is a lack of this in too many schools locally.


Gulagathon said...

Nowadays I don't see how someone could withstand making teaching a career under this environment. This particular system is designed, knowingly or unknowingly to bring mass confusion and nonsensical procedures. How can a teacher teach if she has to document everything that a bad student does, in order to eventually get rid of him a couple of months later.

The problem has to be taken care of now, not months from now. While the teacher is documenting bad behavior, this takes away from learning time, and may give other kids the opportunity to act up while the teacher is documenting.

Teaching is becoming insanely too much work. You have to have your lesson plan ready, you have to hang up your lesson plan, you have faculty meetings where they don't talk about anything that really matters, and you have some teachers who ignore these major issues, and just bootlick and suck up to the principal because they want to advance their own career.

And after all of that crap, the teacher also has to be a part-time dean because if he or she writes too many referrals, that teacher will be looked at as inadequate, and other faculty members will say that that teacher has poor classroom management skills; this affects a persons self-confidence then eventually leads to not caring, and just showing up to collect a check. Probably not all faculties do this, but enough do this to keep this horrible system going.

The kids come from poor communities where not only are they financially low, the common decency and common human courtesy is poor. Its normal for many of these kids to be disrespectful and resort to violence; its fun to them.

Its not even really about teaching anymore, its about classroom management, and the appearance of control. But how is this a constructive formula when so many schools are suffering, and doing so atrociously. NOBODY is getting anything out of this, but a much needed trip to a therapist or psychologist. But most wont go, some teachers may take their frustrations out on their own families.


Gulagathon said...

I just wanted to add this as well. Why cant it just go back to how it was 20 years ago? What was wrong with it then to where we have moved to this system. Why are there so many updates with these state tests, and centralized lesson plans. Why cant students just learn again under a less stressed environment, of learning so they can learn and really delve into a subject without constantly worrying about staying in tune with the pacing guided lesson plan. Of course in a class you have to move on to new topics, but right now there is just too much pressure on everybody involved.

There is too much stress and pressure under this system. Its an impossible mission. How can a teacher teach a kid who doesn't care about anything, and also be blamed if the kid does lousy on the test. ITS NOT FAIR. It doesn't make sense.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Thanks for providing your insight. One of the things I find myself worrying about is our ability to keep our schools staffed, particularly the most challenging environments. I believe it will become increasingly difficult for some schools that serve some populations to be fully staffed. Meanwhile, those that represent (allegedly) all teachers--the union--routinely opposes the payment of stipends to teachers that work in dysfunctional environments like the one described in this blog post. I have made no headway in getting this accomplished for these teachers. I'm not ever giving up on that, I feel like they deserve our complete support. Sadly, many of these teachers do not get the support they need, and thus the churn and turnover occurs which does nothing good for students, schools, or the teachers. It is a vicious cycle we must find a way to break!

Gulagathon said...

You are so right. From my experiences working in the Escambia county school district as a teacher, the things you talk about are 100% fact. Sometimes I would think to myself, wow, why are things the way they are; why are students doing such madness, and why do they get away with it. I'm glad that you have noticed how messed up things are. Older teachers that I've met say that they cant wait to retire! The younger ones are in denial, while everything is crumbling around them.

A little analogy is, some teachers think that all because its the IRAQI WAR ONE in their classroom and not IRAQI WAR 2, they think everything is alright, and they think things are going better for them than it is for others because they don't have IRAQI WAR 2 in their classroom. But their state and standardized test scores are the same because they are in the same school, obviously.

I really like your articles Jeff, I agree with a lot of the posts you've written, and thanks a lot for being cool about me posting my views. You're a really good voice of reason.