kitchen table math, the sequel: ms. teacher

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

ms. teacher

ms. teacher left some interesting but disheartening comments the other day (re: parents chewing her out because they want more coloring, not less) -- which led me to her blog.

Turns out she's a middle school teacher!

I've just skimmed the front page; it's terrific.

First of all, a 4-star teacher joke.

Second, this passage tells you a lot about what my own district does wrong:

I had to call home on a student about a week ago due to behaviors that she has been exhibiting in my classroom. I used to teach her older brother, so I know the family. I also knew that the sassiness and disrespect that she was displaying was not something that her mom tolerates. When I called home, mom was very supportive and upset with her daughter. I felt bad about calling home on this student, but no matter what I said to her or what consequence I gave, it wasn't having an impact. Sometimes just knowing who the family is can go a long way towards having the support you need in the classroom. Since that phone call, this student's behavior has drastically improved.


This is exactly the way a school in a small town should work. (Don't know about larger schools.... )

Because the teacher has a relationship with the family, this problem gets resolved instantly.

Our middle school is, for many parents, the polar opposite of ms_teacher's school. A friend told me that when the assistant principal called to tell her about a pretty nasty prank her son had been involved in, she instantly defended her son and argued with the principal.

Then she felt bad about it.

I know what she's talking about. (And in fact, I was happy to hear she'd "stood up for" her child.) There is so little trust between parents and the middle school administration that my protective instincts are always in play, and I know this is true of others, too. I can see it.

Last fall the new middle school principal told Ed and me he was going to bring parents into the school. When parents are kept at arm's length, he said, trust erodes and suspicion grows.

He was right, but he followed up by doing exactly nothing. Parents aren't allowed into the school, collective punishments are imposed on the kids as a matter of course, very young unsupervised teachers yell at the kids during every lunch hour and have continued to do so in the wake of repeated parent complaints ---- the list goes on.

Ms_teacher's post is a terrific, real-life example of social capital, it seems to me:

The central premise of social capital is that social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all "social networks" [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other ["norms of reciprocity"].

The term social capital emphasizes not just warm and cuddly feelings, but a wide variety of quite specific benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks. Social capital creates value for the people who are connected and - at least sometimes - for bystanders as well.

Catholic schools have social capital in spades. As I understand it, this is one of the reasons they're so effective.

[pause]

Good grief.

I've just noticed I wrote an Amazon review of a book I haven't read, and in fact hadn't even ordered when I posted the review.

So.... why don't I just quote myself?

I'm ordering this book on the strength of comments made by Dr. Sally Kilgore, President and CEO of Modern Red SchoolHouse:

Q. What have you read lately that has influenced you?

The book in education that I have been mulling over is called Trust in Schools. It is authored by Barbara Schneider and Tony Bryk at the University of Chicago, who have been engaged in helping Chicago schools for over a decade. Their research led them to ask, "What conditions were most predictive of substantial change in student achievement?" And, as it turned out, trust relationships that exist between educators and the parents of the children served, among teachers, and then between the principal and his or her staff. What they found was that the ability to improve practices that require trust among all the relevant actors-parents, administrators, and teachers.

Many schools have very troubling relations between parents and educators. Educators still, and probably understandably, say, "We're great teachers, but the students just aren't motivated." We have to confront the question: How can one be a great teacher when they fail to have impact on those with whom they are working? That is the kind of challenge that I think Trust in Schools, to some extent, addresses.

I'm going to read all of ms._teacher's blog.

13 comments:

Dickey45 said...

I've had three instances out of half a dozen or so where my son got in trouble but it wasn't really his fault:

1. He wouldn't walk into the classroom in the mornings. The teacher would have to coax him in. Turns out the teacher gave no positive reinforcement and she was becoming associated with punishment. After observing and telling her this his behavior did a 180.

2. He was in trouble for pulling down his pants and going to the bathroom. Turns out the girls that saw him saw him in a bathroom with NO DOORS. He did pull down his pants but did so about a foot or two from the urinal, which is observable from the hallway.

3. He got in trouble for saying a artist in residence (volunteer) was a freak because she was missing an arm. One teacher reported that he did not say that at all - but something else that wasn't a comment on the teacher. I tried to get to the bottom of it but the school just went on.

Sometimes parents need to spend the time to investigate and do what is right by the child. My son doesn't lie very well (actually at all even though I'm trying to teach him) but his memory is horrible.

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Catherine Johnson said...

anonymous.... you are seriously OT

Catherine Johnson said...

In our middle school kids get in trouble and stay in trouble; there's not much "working with the families" that I can see - and no cutting of slack. (Though I think there may be more slack-cutting this year than last.)

Exo said...

Strangely, but I am a teacher who doesn't call parents. I hate calling parents (I'd rather speak with them in person - something with me and phones : phonephobia maybe... ) So I try to work with the student on matters of behaviors etc.
One of the reasons ism y strong belief that at the age of 14 parents should not be involved in schooling at all. My weren't. It is the responsibility of a student to study, do HW, behave, come to school... At 14 some people start earning their living and can be considered almost adults.
What I do - I give my students their progress reports with all assignments and grades listed. This is not official, it doesn't have to be signed by a parent, the grade average still can be changed. The parents can request progress reports from me or access them on-line. However, noone - NO SINGLE PARENT- asked me to get an access to engrade system this year. And NO ONE emailed me about his/her child progress either... MY e-mail and work phone were listed in my syllabus for the course. So what should I make of it?

ms-teacher said...

thank you Catherine for the plug on my blog :)

BeckyC said...

Exo said
I hate calling parents (I'd rather speak with them in person - something with me and phones : phonephobia maybe... )

It's so hard to be sure that email won't be taken wrong - it's much easier to be sure that the tone of your communication is correct if you can see the other person's face as you speak. I always prefer to talk in person with a teacher. So that she knows that I'm not mad. Or that I am mad, as the case may be. Of course, I am never "mad" but I am sometimes "concerned."

And NO ONE emailed me about his/her child progress either... MY e-mail and work phone were listed in my syllabus for the course. So what should I make of it?

No news is good news, I say.

ms-teacher said...

There is one parent and grandparent that I refuse to call anymore this year due to the abuse they both heap on teachers. The abuse doesn't stop there as our VP, Principal, and all of our campus supervisors know of this student and her family.

It is everybody else's fault, always. I've posted about this student and there have been times where I've felt that the one on one relationship with the student has improved. The problem in this particular situation is that this student has been treated like she is an equal to her mother and grandmother. Therefore, when a teacher calls home it is assumed that the teacher must be lying and/or is picking on the student.

I really am the kind of teacher who wants to make calls home when I see issues crop up. However I will not subject myself to abuse and so I refuse to call home when I know that abuse is what I'll get.

Catherine Johnson said...

NO SINGLE PARENT- asked me to get an access to engrade system this year. And NO ONE emailed me about his/her child progress either... MY e-mail and work phone were listed in my syllabus for the course. So what should I make of it?

Well, depending on how the kids are doing, some of this can be chalked up to parents thinking you're doing your job.

We have had practically no contact with any of C's teachers this year. I think that's nuts, but that's the way the school's set up. You only talk to teachers when there's a problem.

We've had virtually no problems, except with math, which is a chronic problem. And we've given up on math (though we've continued to "make waves.")

Next fall I'm going to call a "Team Meeting" at the beginning of the year.

I told Ed I wanted to do it this year, but he didn't want to.

Next year I'm putting my foot down.

Catherine Johnson said...

It's so hard to be sure that email won't be taken wrong - it's much easier to be sure that the tone of your communication is correct if you can see the other person's face as you speak. I always prefer to talk in person with a teacher. So that she knows that I'm not mad. Or that I am mad, as the case may be. Of course, I am never "mad" but I am sometimes "concerned."

Yes, email is VERY tough

Catherine Johnson said...

The problem in this particular situation is that this student has been treated like she is an equal to her mother and grandmother. Therefore, when a teacher calls home it is assumed that the teacher must be lying and/or is picking on the student.

Interesting.

The school attorney on Beyond TERC says there is a small contingent of parents who really are just plain crazy - and that their kids are frequently the kids kicking up the most trouble.

I found that pretty interesting.

It jibes with my experience, although my own school is awfully rough on hyperactive boys, I think - on any kid with emotional issues. (It was awful last year; may be better this year.)

I told the attorney that I think you can tell which kids-with-emotional-problems come from strong families and which don't.

We've had quite a few kids with various diagnoses in my own extended family, and you can always see that in between EPISODES they're "good citizens."

That's what I took to calling Jimmy once he started to be a little more stable. I used to call him a "good citizen."

Catherine Johnson said...

We're basically coasting on C's good behavior. He's gotten into trouble once this school year, and that because he planned it as a semi-conscious act of civil disobedience.

He came home one night and said he was going to get detention on purpose, because the lunchroom supervision is so oppressive. (It is oppressive. Parents have complained, kids have complained, nothing changes. Very young unsupervised teachers scream and yell at the kids for the whole lunch period. Soon the taxpayers of Irvington will be spending many more thousands of dollars for special private schools for brilliant SPED kids who simply can't deal with the middle school.)

Nobody was too enthusiastic about that idea, but C. didn't take the hint, and went off to school the next day & got detention for tossing his plastic water bottle into the trash instead of putting it in the trash.

Then he wanted us to call the principal and complain.

We said forget it.

People engaged in civil disobedience don't have their parents call the principal.

(We didn't say that. But we didn't call the principal.)

ms-teacher said...

As my youngest's old elementary school, students were not allowed to talk while they were in the lunchroom eating. Any talking at all and they were placed on "the wall" during their lunch recess.

I think it was one of the things that led us to believe that his anxiety issues had a lot to do with his school being run like a military camp than an elementary school.

(He was 8 years old when we pulled him out of the school and placed him in a school in the district where I teach. Bonus for me is that because I'm a teacher in the district, I can make sure he is placed where I want him to be placed!)