5/24/08

For Poppy and Me

Let's go!

25 comments:

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

Kim Green Said:

at risk of being incinerated by the dragon breath of my fellow posters, i am going to dare the ethnic stereotype tightrope for a second and posit something we probably all already know deep inside: complacency sets in within a generation or two after arriving from the old country. i have never seen people work harder than new immigrants do. that, of course, produces a culture clash with the majority group-culture. who wants to be shown up as lazy by comparison?

in my experience, it is often the case that "rich" white american kids want something for nothing, as it were. just part of the status package, i guess. when the hunger to not just succeed but survive dissipates, more varied urges are given space to develop: toward artistic and spiritual sustenance, for instance. sure, we may call stuff like this "core" education curricula, but it can only be so when you aren't damn hungry every night.

i think just-off-the-boatness is definitely a factor that affects a given demographic's test scores (my case for this statement being on-topic). i got quite a giggle when caroline grannan said that lowell used to be called "temple beth lo-ell" back in the day. there's a reason, i suppose, that some folks refer to our asian immigrants as "the new jews." but it's all good: hopefully, everyone who came here will fulfill their american dream, or at least earn some credit card debt at target, and grow as complacent as the rest of us.

kim, already shivering in fear of the flames...but still hoping we can vent some of our dark thoughts and change for the better (although not too much, because i am, as i said, too complacent, white and lazy).

May 23, 2008 7:44 AM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

Anon said:

No, the above analysis definitely rings true for me.

Immigrants (or, I should say urban immigrants) definitely work harder than the landed natives, and, by extension, their children study harder. I know race is a completely taboo subject in the United States, but I will also go out on a precarious limb and say that Asian-Americans are being treated much like Jews were a hundred years ago.

As evidence, many private universities today deliberately tamp down Asian admissions, much like the Ivy League colleges and others did in 1900 for Jewish people. Look at the University of California, which is one of the only egalitarian universities in the entire nation in that it does not accept legacy entrants at the one hand nor discriminate by color on the other side. And schools like UCLA and Cal are maybe 50% Asian-American, even though the population of California on the whole is less than 10% Asian.

Gleaning this, my wife and I always put our children in public schools in San Francisco back in the day with very large Asian demographics (I am not Asian myself). I knew they could never get into Clarendon or Rooftop, so we didn't even bother trying, but it was fairly easy to get kids into very good schools in Asian neighborhoods. If I still had children in school, I would continue following this policy. I used to tell my son when he was whining about his homework, "the Asian kids are raising the bar for you!" And the kids at these schools were almost universally nice and very friendly with my kids. My kids felt no prejudice whatsoever. It was a great way to get a great education on the cheap.

I hope I (and the poster above) don't take too much crap for opining thus.

May 23, 2008 8:59 AM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

another anon said:

I just heard that the Middle School at Claire Lilianthal is going up to 45 students in a classroom next year. Is that true? That seems crazy to me, especially when I hear some private schools are still willing to take middle school applications for fall (my best friend has her kid at Live Oak, with something like 18 kids in a middle school classroom, and she says they still need girls for 6th). How many kids are public middle schools allowed to have in a class? Should I worry about my kid? He'll be going to Hoover

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

Kim Green then said:

no, no...there must be so many other factors that affect an entire school's overall performance. i was just saying that i believe recent emigration seems to have an effect on work ethic -- and vice versa -- in many cases.

May 23, 2008 3:54 PM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

Kim,
You say there must be other factors. What are they? Do you think there are some schools that just have a bunch of bad teachers? Isn't it rather telling that the schools populated by certain groups have almost perfect correlations to student success, or lack thereof?

There is nothing wrong with stating the obvious, as you and I have. I stand by it, though you seem to shrink. Let's start to be honest about the problems facing education. Let's deal with poverty, and the media, and the wholesale dismantling of teacher autonomy. If we focus on fixing the bigger, societal problems, many other problems, including education, will fall in line.

We cannot close the gap with more staff development, or different curricular materials. It is the families themselves that need fixing.

Ok, rage against me......

May 23, 2008 4:06 PM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

yet another anon said:

No, I would never rage against that opinion. You are right.

In sum, good parents make good students and good schools. Bad parents make bad students and bad schools.

Blaming teachers for bad schools is just as ridiculous as blaming police officers for bad neighborhoods.

And the silly argument for merit-based teacher salaries gleaned from student standardized test scores is just as ridiculous as merit-based salaries for police officers based on the number of arrests they make.

May 23, 2008 4:47 PM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

yet another anon:

I'm so deeply put off by the comments above that good parents make good students and bad parents make bad students. I take the implication of that to be that schools that are serving predominately low-income students of color where those students are not doing well in comparison to their white and asian counterparts at other schools - that it's the parents to blame. This to me is beyond preposterous and totally racist (oh yes, I realize that calling it like that may make some people completely dismiss everything I'm saying, but it's hard for me to see it any other way).

I have never in my life met a parent that did not want the best for his or her child. Some parents are better able to provide the kind of background for their children that enables them to come to school already with a love of books and or language and prepared to engage in the culture of school than other parents.

It's the job of the schools, the whole purpose of our educational system in this country, to provide everyone with an equal educational opportunity. If that means something different for kids who come from homes whose culture does not match the culture of school - than that's the job. If you are not interested in that job, than don't teach in those schools - you will do no good for those students, who need teachers who understand their culture and what assets and skills and funds of knowledge they do bring to school, even if those are not white middle class characteristics.

I've been in bad schools and while I'm reluctant to blame the teachers, there is no denying it's their responsibility. Different kids need different instructional strategies. If you don't want to put in what it takes to meet the needs of your students, then, as I said, DON'T teach in those schools. You are not doing anyone any favors. There are lots of schools out there serving low-income students of color that are totally meeting the needs of those students and where those students are doing great. So then how do you explain the schools that are not? The parents? I don't think so!

SFUSD, I hate to say it, is filled with mediocre teachers. Is it harder to teach students who don't come from homes that match the culture of school and whose parents have already basically taught them to read before they get to kindergarten? Sure. But that's a teacher's job!

If we don't believe that a kid's future should be determined by their parents status in society, than we must fully support the idea that it is the responsibility of the schools to provide every child with an equal educational opportunity. And equal cannot mean the same. It must mean equal outcomes (unless you believe that some groups of students are less smart or capable than others - in which case, I'll tackle that in another reply, but of course hope we don't need to bother going there).

May 24, 2008 10:21 AM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

more anon:

Sometimes it isn't about the parents and whether they are "good" or "bad". It is sad but true that there are quite a number of students in the SFUSD who live in group homes, or who are being raised by a grandma or auntie well past the age when she should be having to bring up another generation, and who may also be raising a number of the child's siblings and/or cousins as well. The folks who are guardians to these children do the best they can, but to expect from them the same level of "parenting" that a middle class child with two parents at home receives, is probably not realistic. Some schools have more of these students than other schools, and that may account for some of the range of test scores one sees between schools which are rated by the state as serving "similar" populations.

May 24, 2008 11:02 AM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

and anon:

10:21 am - I disagree

A. Factual - Read the studies. Success in school IS based predominately on education and income levels of the parents.

B. Anecdotal - My sister-in-law works in a Chicago public school and teaches children that are low income and significantly influenced by gangs. At one of the parent-teacher conferences, she told one mother how her son was such a good helper in class. You know what the response was? The mother smacked the boy on the head and called him a suck-up.

Enough with bashing the teachers.
What more can our society do to overcome the street influence that devalues education?

May 24, 2008 11:04 AM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

anon and anon:

it is the responsibility of the schools to provide every child with an equal educational opportunity.

That's certainly true, however schools cannot arrange an equal outcome. Whether they don't get breakfast or are crack babies, some kids are indeed less capable than others.

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

(unless you believe that some groups of students are less smart or capable than others - in which case, I'll tackle that in another reply, but of course hope we don't need to bother going there)

I think you should go there. Explain how every kid is the same, and if we just figure out the "killer" strategy, we will successfully teach every student to your expectation.

Or does that just sound silly on its face?

May 24, 2008 11:36 AM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

Another thing. It gets very tiring hearing folks make assumptions like "all kids can learn" and "it is the teachers responsibility". Yeah, all kids can learn, some more than others. And yes, it is my responsibility, like its the responsibility of a doctor to re-attach your arm after an accident...IF POSSIBLE!

Please, you do everyone a disservice when you make ridiculous assumptions based on your desire to make life fair and equal. Life is not fair or equal. Come back to reality and help us solve the bigger problems, of which education is a symptom.

May 24, 2008 12:04 PM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

poppy said:

10:21:

Your key point is absolutely correct: if you aren't willing to challenge the system, don't teach in schools serving those the system actively leaves behind. It's not necessarily a harder job than teaching in a school serving white, upper middle-class kids, but it is a different kind of job and the work is different. I do it and I'm good at it, so I think I'm a fair critic of it.

Unfortunately, the current movement in education seems to be that everyone can do my job. It just takes smarter, more business-oriented people. Or people who went to better colleges than teachers are assumed to have attended, or who have some kind of vague "leadership" qualities that are more important than training. This is demonstratably false and frankly, often displays an alarming level of white privilege and class privilege.

I think that blaming educators for school outcomes inspires more of these types of teachers, who often (not always) subscribe to bootstrap philosophies in the classroom and who may not be suited for the schools they want to "fix".

I agree that all caregivers want the best for their children, although what they see as the best may be different than what I might want for mine. And I think blaming parents and communities is racist. However, by placing the blame on individual teachers, you are making more or less the same argument you decry.

I would prefer taking less of a deficit model and more of a strengths model: what is it that the teachers at this school can do better/learn more about/challenge more deeply/reflect upon that will result in better outcomes for students? How can schools overcome a legacy of failing certain populations and reach out openly to their communities? Some teachers and schools are successful with students who are typically failed: what is it that's working?

TFT: I hate being blamed for school failure, too. And experience has taught me that the kid who comes to school dirty, underslept and unfed is going to have a harder time with learning that day. The thing is, it's still my responsibility to teach him. That's what they pay me (poorly) to do. And by doing so, I can help one more child rise to challenge the system rather than just feeling crushed by it.

May 24, 2008 2:54 PM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

Poppy,

Of course it is our responsibility to teach all the students in our class. And you are right that some students will be less successful, or, in your words, have a harder time, than others. What I am frustrated with is the notion that my ability as a teacher seems predicated, in the mind of the public, on the success or failure of students. Why is my effectiveness dependent on the ability of a child, who I see for 6 hours a day, to score well on a test, or any assessment I may give?

Helping one more student is a worthy thing to do, and we both do it every day, and with your statement that you do it well, we both seem to do our jobs well. But, is helping one more student really all we can do? I submit that we can do more; we can attempt to change the zeitgeist. People think it is the fault of teachers and schools. The post you responded to (10:41?) even went so far as to say that most of the teachers in SF are mediocre. WTF?!

We need to expose the real reason there is an achievement gap: poverty. Fix that, and education falls in line, eventually. Throwing new materials, high-stakes testing, and more staff development does nothing, NOTHING, to help solve the problem. What they do is make the public more sure that we teachers are the cause and solution of the achievement gap.

Please, don't confuse the word blame with accountability. Kids and families are not to blame. Teachers are not to blame. Families need to be held accountable, as do teachers. This is not a racist statement. Calling it racist begs credulity. It adds to the notion that teachers "can't do, so they teach".

So far, it seems we are holding only teachers accountable. That is wrongheaded, and exacerbates the problem!

Tell me where I am wrong Poppy!

May 24, 2008 3:12 PM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

Anecdotally, I have a student who consistently can't handle the math in 2nd grade. There are good reasons for his inability. Inevitably, when he brings in his math homework, it is wrong. And it is not wrong because he did it wrong. it is wrong because his daycare "teacher" doesn't know how to do 2nd grade math. She can't help him, nor can his parents.

Why bring this up? Because it is another symptom of the problem. We pay teachers nothing, and pay daycare providers even less. You get what you pay for, don't ya?

Then, we propagate the nonsense that we teachers are not in it for the money. I call BS. I am not in it for the money, but I am not in it to take a vow of poverty either. Let's stop mimmicking, paying lip-service to, or even respecting the notion that teachers teach out of altruism. We teach, hopefully because we like it, we are good at it, and we can send our own kids to college on our paycheck (which we can't, but we take the blame for those who might afford it, but can't hack it).

I amy be done for the day....

May 24, 2008 3:20 PM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

poppy again:

TFT:

I wrote a long response to your comment and then lost it. Anyway, in briefer:

I worry any time an issue that involves both class and race is reduced to poverty. It may be the case that your students are white and poor, but that's not the general case. And SFUSD has pervasive achievement gaps between racial subgroups that are larger than any other urban district's in California.

I also think I'm ill-paid, and I'm in it for the money: something I both mentioned directly and that fuels my resentment of untrained teachers in the classroom. I'm a trained professional, not a Peace Corps volunteer. I don't appreciate the idea that my job is easy and that anyone can do it. But I'm also in it for social justice reasons. Frankly, the pay is so poor that none of us would be doing it unless we had something else to drive us to it.

I'm leery of "accountability", which has become a nasty Republican concept wherein everyone is accountable except the people in charge. So I've got to ask you: what is it you hold parents/students/yourself accountable to? There are some things I want from myself/parents/students, certainly - and there are preconditions that I think need to be set before I can expect them.

Anyway, I'm very willing to elaborate on the last point as I did before I confused "preview" and "publish", but it's kind of off-topic - if you'd like to continue this maybe we should move it to your blog?

May 24, 2008 6:05 PM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

Happy to do so Poppy. Look for a thread over there, and we can go crazy!

I understand your concern over the word "accountability". I am using the little "a" and not the buzzword, capitol "A" when I use it. Parents and students need to be accountable for their learning. We do the teaching, they do the learning. We are accountable for what we teach, they are accountable for what they learn. It is the synchronicity that produces the result. Both must come prepared, and the one who doesn't needs to be held accountable. Maybe I can help them account, but i can't be held accountable for their accounts!

Since that was so clear, i can't wait to try it again!

May 24, 2008 6:14 PM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

really angry anon said:

"they are accountable for what they learn" ???

"I can't be held accountable for their accounts" ???

That's not clever, it is inane.

YOU are accountable for HOW TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO TEACH THEM WHAT THEY NEED TO LEARN, and not all children are the same things the same way. You obviously approach it all with the attitude that the kids are idiots and they are lucky to have you for a teacher, that your self-imagined "talents" are wasted on "those kids who cannot learn because they have awful parents".

SPARE ME.

As a parent, I find your scribbling very creepy. I hope to God my kid never has you for a teacher. Just your monniker alone (the frustrated teacher) should tell you that it is time to GET OUT OF TEACHING, if you're so frustrated, if you have so much bitterness against families and the kids, RETIRE. LEAVE. STEP ASIDE.

May 24, 2008 8:23 PM

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

Relax now....I am frustrated with the grown-ups, not the kids. And of course it is my job to try to find a way to educate all these kids, no matter how useless their parents are, or how feeble their minds, or whatever.

You are the reason I am frustrated. You make broad statements without knowing me, or just reading a couple snippets. You have made your judgment. Forget that you are wrong. Your impression, as the impressions of the public show, is that if we teachers are not perfect (insert your definition of teacher perfection here), we suck. What do you do? Can I come critique your job performance, or what you say about it?

I am accountable for finding out what they need [in order]to learn, you say. I have a pretty good idea. The need the country to eliminate poverty. They need parents who are as interested in them as they are in plasma screen tv's. They need a lot, and I provide a lot.

How dare you post your screed without know a damn thing about me.

May 24, 2008 8:43 PM

Poppy said...

Alright, I've posted on this thread twice and both times they've disappeared into the ether. I could post on a different thread, though.

Are you moderating this thread? Anyway, I'll try it again later.

Poppy said...

Oh, now it works. Anyway, see above.

Poppy said...

Okay. I keep losing comments, I'm going to have to cut and paste.

Parent Accountability

If a parent's own experience of the school system was lousy, why should he or she feel accountable to it? And many of my students' parents have had horrible experiences with the school system. Beyond the pervasive opportunity gap, even the federal courts have found that the over-identification of African American students for special education is attributable to institutional (school) and individual (teacher) racism. African American students are suspended at rates far too high and far too often for vague things like "defiance". I know of at least one school (NOT in SFUSD but in the Bay Area) that has a nasty little habit of asking Latino parents who want a meeting with the principal to see their green cards. Etc.

So why on earth should these parents feel accountable to me and trust me to do right by their children? Before I ask for accountability I need to prove that it's worth their while. This is trust-building, and it's on me.

I don't think this is in any way odd. I mean, yeah, my students ace their testing battery every year. But that's because I feel accountable to their progress, not because I feel accountable to NCLB.

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

I'm not sure I follow. These families, described well by you I think, are not to be held accountable to me; they need to be accountable for themselves. If they don't trust the system, then they need to raise that with those in the system. Their negative experience should not preclude them from being accountable for the education of their children.

And your metrics, true as they are, regarding suspension of AA students and the rest, is not an excuse to forgo your responsibility as a parent or a student to remain accountable for your behavior and attitude. We teachers need to expect (you know, high expectations?) a lot more from families if we are going to be partners in closing the gap.

Poppy said...

I don't expect families to trust a system, and I don't hold those who've been oppressed by a system responsible for opening lines of communication to it. I hold the system responsible for reforming itself first: if I didn't, I'd be more into bootstraps than the entire Republican Party.

I don't excuse students acting foolishly - but if what I consider foolish isn't explicit to students, then I'm the fool.

And I don't excuse institutional racism. I mean, that's kind of it, full stop.

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

Why don't you expect families to trust a system? And who but the oppressed can rise up? You blame the system, or should I say, you put the responsibility of reform on the system, as if reform has been determined to be the cure for what ails us. I don't even think we have the ailment figured out yet!

You know, just asking people to take some part in their education is not bootstraps, nor is it republican. You should stop trying to make me fell bad so I will change my tune. I am a proud democrat, and I think I am telling it like it is, as my student take a little test to see how their narrative skills are.

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