So, What’s it Like to Teach in a School Graded D?

                           Teachers are frustrated not about teaching,
but by their inability to teach.

It has been shown that it can be very difficult and trying for these teachers. Measurements were taken of how much time is lost due to the management of a class. For this school and the four fourth grade rooms, it adds up to 62 minutes each day, on the average, for each class. This is a 27% loss of classroom ISTEP instructional time. Furthermore, the 5 to 6 Type 3 students themselves are responsible for on average 37 minutes of disruption. Here is the telling statistic, each day, these 5 to 6 students are collectively responsible for 27 minutes of lost time due to their conduct (this is part of the 37 minutes).

                                    Each day, in each classroom, the teacher must
                                 deal with 27 minutes of disciplinary problems
                                  from the 5 or 6 Type 3 students.

 Recall the Type 2 students are labeled The Followers. Unfortunately they do not follow the Type 1 student; they look to the Type 3s to sometimes guide their behavior. This compounds the classroom management problem leading to more lost instructional time.

A classroom with so many disruptions is not the kind of learning environment needed to advance these students towards academic success. So, what’s it like? It is very tough on the teacher and not at all beneficial for the majority of the students.

   It is terribly wrong for this group of Type 3 students to deprive the balance of the class, students who are amenable to education, from an opportunity to learn and excel.

Recently National Public Radio aired a show that focused on the children who are dismissed from school because of behavioral problems. The expert being interviewed lamented what this action was doing to these dismissed children. Certainly there is a concern for such children and they must not be abandoned but what about the other children in their classes whose educational experience is severely disrupted by the misbehaving children?  This concern seldom comes up.

Isn’t it the teacher’s responsibility to “shape up” these children and bring them into line? It certainly is for most students but by definition, the Type 3s do not respond to teachers or administrators – they typically do not care about learning or about school.

So what can be done? First and foremost, an effort should be made to isolate the Type 3 students away from the remaining seventy five percent of the class who are amenable to learning. You do not “write-off” the Type 3s but they need a different environment one where they can be taught to live in two different worlds. They are automatically educated into their existing home world so what is needed is to educate them to live in the world of classroom education, of jobs and of better incomes. This education must begin early, generally before the first grade. The curriculum not only focuses on the accumulation of reading and communication skills, but time is also spent on these topics, as defined by the teachers:

  • The understanding that education is essential for them to lead a better life.
  • The understanding that even though their circumstances may be far from ideal, they can still be successful if they believe in their teachers and their role in teaching them essential skills.
  • They need to understand why respect of others is so essential for their own success.
  • They need to learn how to manage their behaviors that are brought about because of their life situation.
  • They need to understand the importance of self-discipline and self- motivation.
  • They need to understand what is acceptable speech and what is profane, unacceptable speech.
  • They need to understand how to deal with conflict and how to avoid inflicting either mental or physical harm others.
  • They need to learn the virtue of perseverance and its importance – learning can be hard work

In the language of How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, they need to be taught character and grit.

There is Hope

There is ample evidence that children in low socioeconomic conditions can overcome the barriers of their status and do well in school. The evidence, in this case, is the list of the 114 Indiana schools that are over 70% free and reduced lunches that still earn an ‘A’ for their school’s grade. It is also seen that most of the problem schools are in the metropolitan areas of Indiana. These are the areas where there are high concentrations of low-income families. In the list of 114 schools, there are 62 metropolitan schools. Learning that there are these 114 schools is a significant outcome from this project – there is hope; the children can do the work!

Here is another reason for hope.  We have already seen that the teachers say their students, including the Type 3s, have the intellectual capacity to pass the ISTEP exams but, as we have also seen, there are barriers that get in the way. In particular these students are deficient in what author Paul Tough calls Character and Grit.  Here’s the bright spot – these are teachable skills, they are not intellectual deficiencies.  Most of us learn them from our parents; in the situations where the parent(s) are not getting this job done methods must be devised to teach these skills while the child is young.  These skills are absolutely essential for the children’s success in the classroom and in later life.  Learning these skills must be a primary outcome in early education.

Author’s Editorial Comments

As a businessperson, it is objectionable that the politicians and school administrators are placing some of their teachers into these almost impossible situations.  They say good luck; we hope you have a great year. Generally when a business puts someone in a position they have proper training and a good support system to help make them successful. In the case of teachers, dismissing students from class, taking them to the office forbidding recess, etc. is viewed as a teacher failure.   It could well be but as has been demonstrated in this much of the blame should be placed on the misbehaving students.

In addition, it does not make sense, contrary to what the papers might say, that all of the poor quality teachers migrate to the metropolitan areas and the result is ‘D’ and ‘F’ schools. We all want high quality teachers but some consideration must be given to the deficient social skills of some of their the students.  In this research it is concluded that good teachers do not always produce good test scores; this can be the result of the unmanageable behavior of some of their students.

Lastly, the answer to most of the issues raised in this series of columns is keyed to the element that makes any organization great – excellent leadership. In the author’s opinion, the school principal is the most important position in the school system. They set the tone, they hire and motivate the teachers, and they take personal responsibility for the results. They are involved with the teachers and the students. They determine approaches, with the help of the teachers, to get the parents involved. They are the key to success – this is where the best talent should go!