Monday, November 20, 2017

Is Our Children Learning?

Anyone familiar with my situation knows I am pretty much operating out of a Skylab situation nestled away from the diurnal grind in the relative quiet of Amherst. While I remain a Buffalo teacher I teach inside a therapeutic day school operated by New York State Office of Mental Health and CPC that serves Buffalo students and kids from local suburban high schools. My point in all of this is that I am not really up in the so called mix as I was my first 5 years at Burgard and the following 3 at South Park. Yet even from my safe suburban distance I keep hearing the same disheartening drumbeat from my friends and colleagues in the rest of BPS. If I had to put it in a Haiku it would look like this:

Kids out of control
Foul mouthed, aggressive and rude
Boss says it's my fault.

I'm not much at Haiku but I think this about covers what I am hearing. Granted it's hard to get a real picture of what's going on in the larger setting but my contacts here and there and everywhere all seem to be on the same page. It's as if there's a district wide policy of blaming teachers for discipline problems and admins refusing to issue any kind of meaningful consequences for even the most outrageously disrespectful behavior. A teacher aide friend in a high school tells me he hears more filth and obscenity by 10:00 on a given day than you'd hear in three straight episodes of Deadwood. Another hears kids saying things like "Oh I better sit down before this bitch starts on me with  that bullshit..." or "Hey, I gotta piss and you let that motherfucker go ahead of me?" If any of this is brought to the attention of administrators they say things like "These kids are in Special Ed that's what they do..." or "Let me see your plan book, students act up when you fail to engage them..." When I ask second level questions about the whys and wherefores I hear that there's a push to avoid suspension at all cost. ALL COST. And that's fine, I'm all for the restorative justice idea but when there's no justice and no sense of respect being restored we're just making excuses, kicking the can and emboldening kids who are bold enough already. When you refuse to address bad behavior you're asking for more of it and giving permission for it to continue. 

Years ago I worked in a Quality School. We were led by the teachings of William Glasser and his Total Quality movement. There were some good principles in play but there were also a lot of ways kids could get between the cracks with phoney apologies and trite shows of acknowledgment that they'd been less than Quality. It seems to this pedagogue that any eduphilosophy is going to have its Achilles Heel and it's the job of those promoting said framework to be honest about that reality and step in when needed. No matter how sound the philosophy is there's no way any kid should be allowed to spew filth and threats at adults and other kids without ending up at a Superintendent's Hearing in City Hall. If I'm reading this all wrong and we're actually in the early stages of a transformational  new approach to discipline, one where consequences are so subtly crafted and ingeniously applied to the point that they don't even appear to exist then I'll admit I'm reaching and go about my business. 

Sadly though, while talking to a friend in NYC the other day I hear this isn't simply a Buffalo trend. My friend suggests it's more likely a national trend. If this is true then I guess we can stop scratching our heads in wonder when we hear of teacher shortages. It's enough that we're under fire from the ed reform and public ed for profit class, that we're evaluated on meaningless test scores and micro mismanaged by career climbing bug eyed crazies who've fled the classroom for power and prestige, but stir in an endless stream of obscenity, abuse and threats of violence from people we're trying to educate and you've all but guaranteed your teacher shortage. 

If anyone thinks things discipline wise are swell in Buffalo please let me know. I only wrote this in response to what struck me as a pervasive and systemic refusal to address student misbehavior in any fashion that didn't involve blaming teachers for causing it. 


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