Sunday, September 24, 2006

Patti Smith Was Right... Don Henly, Too, I Guess

I'm a month in, and already I'm banging my head against the school change walls my Masters Program has erected. Because I have to read things like this, from a foundational reading of the Program, the title of which will be hidden to protect the guilty:

"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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's an advance order for "Give a shit and get on with it". Two copies, please. Thank you.

4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The touchy-feely-lovey stuff makes the people touting it feel good about themselves. It does not help our students succeed. The whole self esteem movement is rooted in the wrong self. We want self efficacy, self advocacy, and self determination. With those comes self esteem. But teaching (loving) self esteem first does not create the other three.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

education is beautiful...

(and this time I mean it sarcastically, literally and artistically...)

I too would like to order a few advanced copies of your soon to be Oprah book of the month best seller.

You should consider making a poster with of yourself hugging your children with the bosom quote beneath it. I'd take a few of those as well :)

Oh yeah... welcome to the ivory tower. I remember doing a native american dance around a table with some of my fellow inductees in order to get in touch with my spiritual side and thinking (as I'm sure every other uncomfortable person in the class was at the time), "How much am I paying for this again?"

But have heart. There will be 10 percent you can cull and use. Heck you might set your sights on a Ph.D. or Ed.D. and raise your flag over the teacher-education factory we have so perfected here (I'll join the ragtag crew).

Until then... share the love

5:33 PM  
Blogger Kilian Betlach said...

I don't know about the writing on this site, but the commenting is getting better on an almost daily basis.

7:03 PM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

Good stuff

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Grad level' ed classes, and some ten years of academic training kick in to trigger the usual cascade of questions: Why? How do you know? Based on what evidence? For what reasons? Under what circumstances is this true? Under what conditions might be opposite be the case? Strangely, ed school instructors across the board seem to understand such questions as some kind of personal attack, even when the question is meant in the most innocuous way, as a request for more information, or just for a reference. Why, why, would they seem to feel threatened by a challenge to their statements when education is so complex that the truth can't possibly be summarized in one position? Anyway, as a result my intellectual immune system seems to have started overreacting, and I sometimes allergically reject the good with the bad when it's written in eduspeak. Not a healthy reaction either.

Anyway, my students - like yours - are easy to love and hard to teach. If only the weekly ed classes gave half as much useful input on how to do that teaching as an average hour at the summer training! :(


9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I find the TFA "we're going to come in here and be rigorous for a few years and then get out of the classroom" stance just depressing. Of course loving kids (maybe "caring" would be less offensive?) seems off-putting if you're not in it for the long haul. But if you're planning to be there twenty years from now, it makes perfect sense. "Give a shit and get on with it" implies that giving a shit and getting on with it are separate things. For me, they're completely intertwined. But I suppose that makes me part of the problem the high standards crowd are doing such a good job of fixing.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Kilian Betlach said...

I don't find anything offensive about loving/ caring/ giving a shit about kids, up until the point where I'm supposed to believe the lack of love is causing the failure in our districts and schools. Nothing I've seen or read can justify that interpretation. But I agree, part of being an effective teacher is caring, but to the extent they can be separated, I think we got the caring down; it's the effective part we're lacking.

The "get on with it," to me, means our real challenge is providing appropriate instruction, assessment, remediation, and the environments in which they can occur. It means the caring is easy, most of us got it, the ones who don't will fake it in the PD sessions designed to build it, so let's go.

I don't know if that makes me part of the solution, part of the problem, indicative of the TFA stance, or something else entirely.

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's why I say your post is reflective of the TFA approach. I'd characterize the general view of TFA as "we're smarter than the rest of you." They look down on those who go through conventional teacher education and then, when teaching turns out to be way harder than they expected, they blame the system, the curriculum, the administration, other teachers, the authors of books about education, etc. The reason caring is an uncomfortable concept to think about is because it can't be made someone else's responsibility. I think saying it's "easy" is just a way of dismissing it, of saying I'm above that. Nel Noddings' work on the ethics of care and education (to give one example) has made me a better teacher than all of the "practical" advice I've gotten about instruction and assessment and classroom management. Her work is by no means "easy." It may be that one needs to come to these ideas later in one's career. But I fear most TFA teachers won't be around to find out.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Kilian Betlach said...


I disagree with your characterization of TFA in general and my intentions in particular, but maybe your interactions with TFAers have given you that impression. From my own experience I try not to look down on anyone, and can tell you for a fact that TFAers are nowhere close to cornering the market on blaming others for the inherent difficulties in education. I also think if you back-read a little, you'll see I've tried to advocate for more responsibility-taking (a component of caring, as you mentioned) again and again in this space.

To my mind, the caring IS easy. That's not dismissing it; that's just where I am, and where I assume most teachers are. Teaching, however, is hard, and teaching low-income, ELLs is harder still.

That's not to say I'm above the other stuff, but it IS to say that I do not believe improvements in that area will solve the problems my school/ district/ state face.

I'm unfamilar with the work you mentioned, but I'll definitely check it out. I think there is a way you can talk about caring as an ethical/ attitudinal approach to education that lays a foundation and sparks all other professional growth and development. Who knows? Maybe that's what my program is getting at and I'm too thick-headed to see it.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I said "they" instead of "you" in my comments about TFA because I see your stance as somewhat different. However, I do think you're unduly dismissive of teacher ed. (and, by extension, people like me who went that route and valued it).

I learned a huge amount from the teacher ed. program I went through. And all during it, I encountered people who sneered under their breath at it. To give one example of your attitude(I've recently discovered your blog and have been reading back through some of your entries), you ask in one post for the title of a book that middle school kids who aren't very good readers would like. You get lots of suggestions and then confess you haven't heard of most of them. Well, the required course I took in Young Adult Literature introduced me to dozens of authors and titles that were high interest and easy-to-read.
As an English teacher, I found that very valuable. Maybe I had good luck with my teacher ed. courses, but I also think TFA (and to some extent your blog) assumes teacher ed. is guilty until proven innocent. The teacher ed. courses I took were pretty much like the courses in the English dept. I took--some good, some bad, but for the most part I got out of them what I put into them.

8:17 PM  
Blogger Kilian Betlach said...

I'm glad your experiences were great. I wish more people received stellar preparation. I didn't, (not even in my multi-cultural literature class) and it is this that informs the writing on this site. I had to learn (as I continue to do), by teaching and working with a strong team of exceptional educators.

It's probably also worthwhile to note that most alt-certified folks enroll in the same programs as everyone else; they're just teaching while they do it.

8:40 PM  
Blogger heck said...

You obviously haven't taught a year four low performing school with a 30% bilingual rate.

I empathize with you and the whole "gotta love them kids" inconsistency, but I have to say, giving a crap does pull you out a bit. WE ARE SEARCHING. WE ARE EXHAUSTED. WE ARE CONSTANTLY RECREATING THE WHEEL.

Write me a book about teaching standards to children that don't have a basal knowledge of the English language and I might buy it.

And, that, comes after correcting simile papers that included:

"My uncle's car was a lemon" and 99% of my students stated that their uncles' car was yellow (ok, yeah, one said green).

9:34 PM  
Blogger Kilian Betlach said...

No heck, I haven't.

My school was in year two when we exited PI and 80% of our students are English Language Learners.

In teaching similes, I found it helpful to have students create two drawings, one entitled "literal meaning" and the other "figurative meaning." That would allow them to draw a yellow car in the shape of a fruit, as well as one with all kinds of stuff falling apart.

For what it's worth, I'm tired, too. Also, I'm getting sick.

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely agree that loving the kids is the easy part. Teaching them is so hard that the only thing that gets me through is loving the kids. The teachers who don't love the kids and don't care are the ones who are quick to dismiss kids as just behavior problems or perpetual low acheivers and fail to see how they can find potential and possibility in each student. Maybe lack of love the kids isn't the system wide factor in why schools fail, but it could be a big part in why some teachers are inadquate, TFA or not.

3:45 AM  
Blogger heck said...

So if you got out of'd you do it? Give me the answers...I'm ready.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Ben Guest said...

Most teacher ed programs are a joke. They usually have the lowest entry requirements and are viewed as a cash-cow for the university. Same with most alternate route programs. The problem, as identified in the initial post, is teacher quality. You don't get quality teachers by letting everyone in.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Kilian Betlach said...


Email me: teachingmyassoff [at] hotmail [dot] com and I'll send you the presentation we created.

The shorter answer is longer school days, focused student grouping by language needs and academic readiness, power-standards interventions targeted CST 1s and 3s, supplementing existing curricula to address grade-level standards and increased collaboration.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Got Thoughts? said...

Dude, why are you focusing on middle schoolers? We need you to teacher teachers.

I wish that half of my teachers at Shitty U were as knowledgeable. One day we spent 40 minutes creating word searches using both small and large graph paper…I paid $1,200 for that class. This is the same class where we spent 40 minutes discussing the merits of celebrating Halloween in the classroom. I am not really sure I see the connection to literacy, you know, the class content, but then again, I didn’t learn that all you need is love.

Who knew?

3:56 PM  
Blogger heck said...


Sounds like what ALL teachers are doing in California.

What's your population? How many kids do you have on AFDC? What's your main second language? How do you assure your kids are meeting standards if your teaching to their language level (because they obviously don't take a 4th grade STAR test in the 8th grade)? What's your SES? How many parents did you have at Back to school night?

And can the kid read?

We have had 2period Language Arts blocks for four years.

We have had 2 period Math blocks for 2 years.

We have power standards.

We teach 6 straits.

We teach comprehension.

We have a leadership team.

We have teacher articulation every week.

I WANT to know what are you doing different?

Don't give me teacher ed crap either. (IE...your simile explanation, which by the way, highly offended if I wouldn't have used that strategy)...My point....we seem to be doing all the same what's DIF about the 408?


If you have the answer, I'm sending you up here. PERSONALLY.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Kilian Betlach said...

What's your population? [700]

What's your main second language? [Spanish]

How do you assure your kids are meeting standards if your teaching to their language level (because they obviously don't take a 4th grade STAR test in the 8th grade)?
[Supplementing existing intervention curriculum to provide access to grade-level standards (REWARDS, Bridges, SUTW, AR, AM, etc.). Requiring students to perform grade-level analysis and product structure even with intervention-level content. Constant movement and re-assessment throughout the year. A kid may start in intervention but move to core by February, etc., and an admin willing to reschedule individual students consistently, as necessary. An additional hour of instruction for every 7th and 8th grader. Ten+ Saturday Academies a year.]

What's your SES? [100% free and reduced lunch]

How many parents did you have at Back to school night? [A 1/4 to a 1/3 of the school was represented]

Can the kid read? [Not so much right now, but we can fix that.]

We have had 2period Language Arts blocks for four years. [We schedule 3 periods for L.A. intervention]

We have had 2 period Math blocks for 2 years. [Yup. Saturdays and after school, too.]

In general, I would disagree that ALL teachers, as you say, are doing these things. In any event, one can have various approaches in place, but if they are not affecting student outcomes, they are in and of themselves not so valuable. Maybe that's what's happening at your school. Do teachers believe that better results are attainable? Have they defied the myth? How are students grouped? How is data used to drive instruction? How is material presented to ELLs? Are their common assessments across content areas? Have standards been consistently broken down into achievable, student-centered objectives? How do students track their progress towards mastery? What is the quality of teacher-student interactions?

I don't know, man. We did this stuff and it worked. No PI, quadrupled our proficiency level, 200 API points. Without knowing anything about your school, that's the best I can do.

7:04 AM  
Blogger NameChanged said...

Wow. It took me a while to get through all of those comments, but it was worth it. Being lovey-dovey is important, especially with younger studentst, but it is imperative that our "group hug" doesn't get in the way of lighting their intellectual fires. If I am too busy telling Rose that she is a good person to tell her that she must write in complete sentences, then I have done her a disservice. She will be much happier later in life if she feels like she knows something, even if she can't remember the "bitchy" teacher who taught it to her.

6:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I thought my week was rough!
We had an OD and a kid on the roof and refusing to come out of the tree. Plus I found out aggressive and threatening student who was sent for disicplinary placement is being returned to us EARLY becaue THEY can't handle her.

John Lennon sang all you need is love, but he wasn't thinking about testing scores.

IF loving and caring could fix the problem then there would not be a problem.

Would you PLEASE come give an iservice to my school? We'll need books for the administrators only.

8:40 PM  

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