Teachers Should Not Be Blamed For Society’s Problems
Two law suits one in New York and one in California attack teachers and tenure claiming that students in inner-city schools get substandard teachers and as a result a substandard education. These law suits approach a complicated problem in a simplistic manner. Simply because test scores are lower in an inner-city school is not an indication that teachers are not doing their job. Blaming all of the problems of a broken society on teachers is not fair. Teachers who work in the trenches of our inner-city face many obstacles daily and need the support of our population, not accusations. Taking away teacher’s tenure is taking away teacher’s opportunity to have a fair and just procedure for termination. No one would take away a doctor’s medical license without a fair procedure because they are professionals. No one disbar an attorney without a hearing. Likewise, teachers are professionals and deserve to be treated fairly.
I have also taught in both inner-city schools and upper-middle class schools in the affluent suburbs where all of the children, even the special education students, are expected to go to college. In these neighborhoods, parents are advocates for their children. There is no difference in the intellectual ability of the students in the lower-social economic neighborhoods, but there is a difference in the expectations of the students and the demands of the parents. The parents in the more affluent neighborhood demand that their child receives all of the services he is entitled. They pay for outside tutors, voice lessons, dance classes, and athletic programs. The students in these schools are often over-worked and anxious from their parents’ demands and scheduling, but they achieve and they achieve at high levels. Maybe the real difference between the students in upper-middle class and affluent neighborhoods and the students in inner-city schools is their parents have the luxury to spend quality time with their children, the luxury of having time to go to school and demand services and the money to pay for enhancement lessons for their students.
Students in inner city school face other obstacles that negatively impacts their chances of performing well on tests. Often both parents of these students are busy working two jobs to support their families or they are single-parent families. Some of these parents do not speak English or fear deportation if they make demands on the schools. There are a myriad of real reasons that becoming involved in their child’s education is difficult for them. Being economically disadvantaged and culturally different creates huge obstacles for most of these students. Their families do not have the resources to provide tutoring or voice lessons. Some of these students work part-time or full-time jobs to help support the family. Some of these students care for younger siblings while their parents work. Some of these students have parents who cannot read or write and cannot help their child. These are the parents who are embarrassed about their own lack of education and do not attend parent-teacher meetings least someone discovers. Some of these students have families that have been involved in gangs for four generations. These students often lack the resources that more affluent students. They may not have a computer or the internet. There may be few books in their homes. Their parents lack the vocabulary to help their child build a strong vocabulary. These students rarely travel the globe like their more affluent counterparts, so they lack a vision of the world outside their five block radius.
Furthermore, most parents and students really appreciate the work teachers do, so I strongly suspect the parents and students in this lawsuit do not represent the views of the majority of parents. Regardless of which school I was teaching I have always received letters, emails, and personal remarks of appreciation from both parents and my students. I still connect on Facebook with students I taught in the 1970s. When I retired, I had one parent who came in during my lunch period to personally thank me for teaching her two children. I had one young man bring me a big bouquet of flowers in a beautiful vase with a touching card and two girls who created a lei of candy bars that they placed around my next with a wonderful warm Polynesian thank you. I have known Chinese-American students who have brought me special gifts during Chinese New Year and when I lost a parent students brought me letters and cards of condolence. At the end of every school year students hug me and whenever I meet a former students I am greeted with a warm hug and a thank you. All of the notes I have received from parents and students over the years are stored in a large box. The media always hypes the negative view of teachers, but most of the public appreciates the job our teachers do.
The schools in inner cities face obstacles that are unheard of in suburban schools. When I taught at San Bernardino High School in the 1980’s, the school had to repaint every building on campus every day before school to remove gang tagging. After I left, I heard the school added metal detectors to keep knives and guns from entering campus. The campus also had a staff of security guards in the halls to keep the gang activity off campus. Whereas, when I taught at South Jordan Middle School in Utah, an upper-middle class suburban neighborhood, the school had one hall monitor for the 1,582 students, just to make certain that a student with the hall pass visiting the rest room would remember to return to class in a timely factor. There were no gangs and only on rare occasions graffiti. The expense of protecting children from violence and gangs add considerably to costs of education in an inner-city school.
The teachers in the inner-city schools spent more of their own money and time to ensure their students’ success than the teachers in the suburban schools. For example, I had a student whose parents could not afford to pay for his A.P. exams, so all of his teachers chipped in and paid for them and the principal helped the family find a legal counselor to help them stay in the country legally. Another student who was on my debate team could not afford appropriate attire for debate meets, so the teachers pooled together and one of the teachers provided one of her husband’s old suits. Another young lady was living with her grandmother on welfare when she became pregnant. Members of the staff donated their children’s baby clothes, so this young lady could continue her education and care for her child. Educators are greatest asset that these families have. Attacking the teachers who are helping these young students overcome huge obstacles is like biting the hand that feeds you.
Those of us who have taught in the inner-city schools have known the seventeen year old girl pregnant with her second child who misses school to care for her children working eight to ten hours a day in the fast food industry. Those of us who have taught in the inner-city schools have known the teenage boy who is running drugs to support his siblings because his only parent is incarcerated. We have heard him rationalize that even if he does graduate, he is unlikely to find any job and if he does find a job, it will probably be a minimum wage job in fast food. These are problems that students in suburban schools do not face. Because of the problems of gangs, and violence, schools in the inner-city spend a large portion of their funds keeping the gangs off campus and keeping the students safe. These schools like the neighborhoods where they exist face a myriad of problems, but blaming all of these problems on teachers and treating these teachers like the characters in Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help, maids who are unfairly blamed and unjustly discharged, is not the answer. The problems in inner-city schools are complicated. When society solves the problems created by poverty, we will solve the problems in those schools. Low test scores in inner city schools are caused by a myriad of reasons. Don't blame the teachers.
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