Tag Archives: educating boys

Educational Fantasy #2: Real and Effective Interventions and Alternatives for Students Who Do Not Function Well in School

Simpsons_10_07

Public schools take all comers, don’t they? And that’s as it should be. Those of us who support and desire a healthy public school system believe that this is a fundamental principle that makes a democracy viable, that all our citizens deserve equal access to an educational experience that will grow them into literate, responsible, thinking, productive, engaged individuals who will realize their fullest potential. We know the reality is far from the ideal, and perhaps the most incessant and visceral dilemma teachers face on a day to day basis is that group of students who, for whatever reason, resist our efforts to provide for them this thing we believe is so essential. Our issues are rarely ever with students who are motivated to do their best, and we have huge love for those students of ours who struggle with skills and yet work hard, sometimes harder than any other kid, and despite great obstacles, succeed. No, our issues are with kids who are openly and explicitly defiant and resistant to schooling, who devalue learning, who champion stupidity or childishness, who disrespect benevolent authority, who disrespect their classmates, who cynically reject any understanding about how education could possibly be in their favor, who create disruption for others and deliberately poison classroom communities with their trolling behaviors. These kids make teaching and learning less joyful, more difficult, and sometimes impossible.

We have a moral obligation to educate them, of course. As we understand that their recalcitrance often comes from some deep suffering, we also have a moral obligation to care for them, and, as difficult as it is sometimes, to feel compassion for them. But here’s a Newsflash: teachers are not saints. It’s impossible to educate someone who doesn’t want to be educated, and it’s really difficult to love someone who is fighting you, preventing you from doing your work, sabotaging your intentions, making your sacred space unsafe.

More and more I have come to believe that the traditional classroom, no matter how progressive and inclusive, is not the correct place for these students. The title of this piece suggests that I will have a handful of suggestions to create effective interventions and alternatives for students who do not function well in school. I’ve got nothing. Nada. I only know that in a perfect world, in my educational utopia, these interventions and alternatives would exist. In this educational fantasy, all of my students, every last one of them, at the very least, would understand the importance of education and would be ready and willing to do intellectual, academic work with energy, integrity and respect. Meanwhile, in this fantasy, there is some program that provides students who are not ready or willing with some other thing that, 1. meets their academic needs, 2. teaches them how to be human and humane, 3. gives them an outlet for the release of energy usually expended in disrupting a traditional classroom, and 4. gives them some occupational/vocational skill, a skill that could be used to make things, build stuff, design, create, or fix. And in this program, whenever they decide that they want to join me in the appreciation and understanding of Shakespeare, they are welcome to come back to my classroom.

Honestly, I lack perspective. I’ve taught English at the same high school my entire career. I know there are likely programs in place around the country that work, that have developed strategies for dealing with at-risk kids, but I also know intuitively and anecdotally that these profound and effective strategies are not widely practiced, do not find their way into every nook and cranny of the vast public school system in this country–for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that strategies to help at-risk kids, if they are in place at all, are likely specific and tailored to the districts and communities that implement them; there seems to be no sure-fire way to make certain effectives programs are implemented elsewhere, anywhere else, everywhere.

My district has an alternative school. I’m embarrassed to say this, but I don’t know what they do there. I know that some of the kids I’ve described end up there and some of the ones I currently have in my classes talk about wanting to go there. I don’t know why. Students cannot tell me why outside of saying that they think it will be better for them. They can’t say what they mean by that. I doubt very much that our alternative school has the capacity to welcome all students who need its services. And I am even unsure of the process by which students are selected for such an alternative. I have no reason to doubt the effectiveness of this program, but I also have no reason to celebrate. Is this alternative school successful? And by what standard? Despite the fact that I can’t answer these questions, I am thankful for it, am curious about it, and am hoping that maybe they could take on about a half a dozen of my freshmen boys.

And if the alternative school doesn’t work or can’t expand, what might possibly work as an alternative to the alternative school? Educational Fantasy #3: Two Teachers in Every Classroom.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Teaching

#75: The InEquity NonPoem (a manifesto)

1012-equity-keypolicies

The InEquity NonPoem (a manifesto)*

In my school district
we’re having the conversation about equity,
and mostly, we’ve been asked to focus on potential
inequity between white kids and our students of color
and how to minimize or abolish that inequity.
Let’s do a quick little statistical analysis, shall we?
Of 80 students in my IB English classes, 72 are white or
Eastern European white. One white kid identifies as Hawaiian,
but not ethnically. Another white kid identifies as Cuban,
which, despite her light skin, makes her decidedly not white.
One is Mexican and a native Spanish speaker. One is Vietnamese.
Two are black. One is mixed-race, partly black.
Another one, mixed-race, but not black.
Of my 7 students of color in these high level classes,
three are struggling; that’s almost half of them. But
the other 4 are completely on top of the game,
some of my very best students.
There’s that. The same could not be said of the white kids,
that almost fifty percent of them are struggling.
But there are a lot more of them. If I pulled
the right 6 or 7  kids from the white population,
I might find fifty percent of those kids were
struggling also and the other half were on
top of the game. More interesting to me than
the fact that 3 of my 7 non-white kids in IB English
are struggling is the fact that there are only 7
non-white kids in the entire group of 80.
Let’s talk about equity, honestly,
and come to terms with the fact that in a junior class
of which a full 20% are non-white, only 13% of those
are enrolled in a college level English class, while
33% of their white counterparts are enrolled
in a college level English class. And while we’re
at it, let’s remember that equity is not only about
race but also about gender, and let’s wonder why
girls outnumber boys in my IB English classes
2 to 1, while boys outnumber girls in my “regular”
English classes 2 to 1. And guess which gender is
typically more challenging, behaviorally and
academically. The boys are. Which gender has
the highest number of failing grades? The boys do.
Could we complicate things even further by
thinking about income inequality? No, we can’t.
I’m told no one has access to that information
except the cook and the  bookkeeper and that they
are explicitly told to keep that information
confidential.  Here’s my guess.  The students
in my IB English classes are mostly from middle
class families and above, and the students in my “regular”
English classes are not–for the most part; and also, it is likely
that most of the kids I have who are successful
are from middle class families, while the kids who
struggle are not.  How do I know this?
Statistically, it is true that the greatest indicator
of a student’s success on a standardized test is the neighborhood
he or she lives in, the student’s socio-economic status,
and most of the students in my IB English classes
are doing just fine on their standardized testing.
There are always exceptions.  There are always exceptions.
Generally speaking, though, the above is accurate and true.
So what does it mean? First of all, it means that, yes,
we have issues of equity in my school and in my district.
Secondly, the inequity is systemic, and not related
to how kids are treated in my classroom.
And finally, to conclude the inEquity nonPoem,
I must now reach a more satisfying conclusion.  I conclude that working
for educational equity is the most important kind of school
reform we could ever undertake–but that working for equity
is not so simple a thing as race, gender, or class considered
in isolation, and that gender inequality should not be ignored
because most of the kids suffering are white boys–who
historically were not the ones underserved, but the ones
on top, and finally, that economic inequality should not be ignored
simply because we can’t see it with our eyes. And ultimately,
the way we battle any kind of inequity is the way we
make effective classrooms possible: knowledgeable, caring professionals
who understand or can learn the culture of their various students;
a humane teacher-to-student ratio that makes it possible for teachers
to KNOW their students in meaningful and significant ways;
a challenging, rigorous curriculum and high expectations for every kid,
despite race, gender, or class differences–which means ultimately
accomplishing the thing I’ve been railing about for 25 years:
the elimination of a tracked curriculum where the haves
are separated from the have-nots, where mostly white kids
and girls are taking high level college credit classes and getting
the very best education tax money can buy away from “those other kids.”
This abruptly concludes my manifesto: The InEquity NonPoem.

*this piece was composed and organized in lines so that I could call it a poem. Because that’s how I roll. The “nonpoem” in the title is just a way of expressing my misgivings that there’s anything poetic about this piece at all. Maybe I have invented a new genre:  the essay poem–not to be confused with the lyric essay, a poem disguised as an essay; this is  rather an essay disguised as a poem. O genre gods, forgive my trespasses.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Poetry, Teaching