Patti Smith Was Right... Don Henly, Too, I Guess
"Loving kids is the hard part. I've been teaching 28 years and I can tell
you that once you love kids, the rest is easy."
Because a massive part of Saturday's "educational experience" was listening to one mover and shaker claim that the key to promoting student achievement in at-risk populations was loving kids, and that if only educators knew kids' names, made eye-contact, and dropped some passing-in-the-hallway small-talk, everything would be fine. Because the Program's founder spoke about how "hard" it would be to revisit the case-studies he published, because NCLB has destroyed the ability of those schools to implement his vision. Because everyone is talking about the vast and terrifying importance of loving children and no one, not one person is talking about the importance of teacher quality.
Nearly forty-percent of incoming students at my school scored 1s and 2s on the California Standards Test last year. You cannot tell me that the root cause of this disaster was lack of eye-contact, lack of resiliency on the part of their teachers, or the principal not knowing their names. You cannot tell me that forty-percent of those kids felt that their schools were cold, unfeeling places, where they were constantly the victims of peer-abuse (bullying). You can't say it, beacuse it's not true. I've been asking. In surveys, informally, after school, I've been asking, and these kids liked elementary. They liked their teachers and talk about them in positive ways. Some of them lament those years (and they all had one) where they did not have a teacher, just 38 substitutes, but when a teacher was present, they felt good. They can't read, nor can they spell, or write, or perform long division, but they felt welcomed and self-report to "learning a lot."
Don't tell me it's all about caring and love.
My students are four and five and six years behind grade level and I could go in tomorrow and love my ass off. I can hold those poor, ethnic kids to my upper-middle class bosom and just love them to death and it won't make a lick of difference because they don't need it. They don't need more people to love them; they need a damn teacher to educate them. Yet, this is not the ideology being sold to 150 future principals.
I can't help but see this as a creeping form of paternalism, this concept that the high-poverty child must, by definition, emerge from a broken home devoid of love, attention, caring, and fathers. We come to this conclusion because these kids live in not-great neighborhoods and because their parents probably didn't come to back-to-school night, that pseudo-worthless exercise that launches a thousand unsubstantiated judgments. In that same foundational book, I read an account of a teacher from my district who particularly loves his job because he can be a father figure to so many of his male students. And I want to vomit because of the implicit assumptions of lacking-ness, and because this is the last thing this community full of two-parent households and extended families of cousins, uncles, grandfathers actually needs, and because that's not your damn job. We're so focused on fixing, on compensating for perceived inter-personal familial coldness, that we're missing the whole point: Teach kids the skills they need to be successful. Teach kids positive ways of interacting with each other and adults.
Except I'm not sure we know how to do this. We know how to prepare teachers to work in Cupertino, Marin County, Santa Barbara, but not South Central, Oakland, or East 408. It is because we don't know, or at least, the preparing institutions don't know, that we erect grand systems of increasing the amount of superficial corazon and concimiento we bring to our jobs, and then hold it up as the great undiscoverd secret. Man, if only I cared more!
This is not to say that our schools do not need to be warmer, more inclusive places. They do. This is not to say that an exclusionary focus on boogy-man test prep is a sufficient instructional model. It is not. This is not to say that caring and the establishment of relationships are not central to being an effective classroom teacher and powerful school leader. They are. Yet, we cannot stop there because in doing so we make a sweeping assumption that teachers know what to do with at-risk, difficult-to-educate populations, and that it was their inability to love that impeded their effectiveness.
Check out how backwards that one is: Those poor kids are hard to love but easy to teach? Go ahead and draw your own conclusions about the inherent biases and prejudices of the educational leaders who came up with that one.
I'm gonna write my own book: Give a Shit and Get On With It by Dr. TMAO. A critical analysis of how giving a shit ® can be communicated to students through demanding instruction, uncompromising standards of achievement, and the repudiation of the right to fail.
I don't say anything at the whole group session because I cannot figure out how to phrase what I'm thinking as a non-antagonisticc inquiry, something I never would have cared about in the past -- chalk another one up to my personal and professional growth -- and in the break-out sessions afterward I sit and stew because we're not really talking about anything meaningful. I notice the other folks from our team are pretty quiet as well, and I wonder if it's for the same reasons. I know they're not buying this garbage. Then I someone says something and I get a little fired up. I start talking about the slippage that occurs in grades 4 and 5, about the 40 percent and the incompleteness of the ideology of love. The professor wants to put a frame on my comments and starts with "Since you're all professionals..." and I jump all over that.
We're not professionals, I say. We're not. We don't know how to do this job well enough and some of us aren't really trying. I'm a thoroughly average teacher myself, I say, and I point to a colleague behind me. How many of my former students in your class? Everyone of those kids is my failure. We're not professionals, not in my District. If professional doctors are incapable of performing an appendectomy they lose their licenses. If professional teachers are incapable of teaching a kid to read past a third-grade level of ability... nothing. Nothing happens, I say, and it's awful.