Posts Tagged ‘parents’

When teaching literature to high school students, I often emphasized and tried to prove how literature is a reflection of life at a particular time in history. This is why I always began a course discussing how literature must be analyzed historically, socially, politically, in addition to absorbing it thematically and structurally.

Thus, it makes sense that sensitive issues will arise in the study of writings, especially classics of American literature, as well as periods in British literature. For example, many teachers are uncomfortable with reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Maya Angelou because of its raw glimpse into a society immersed in the evils of slavery, and all the derogatory wording used.

Ironically, it seems only rappers are comfortable with some derogatory language which people used historically to debase and denigrate slaves.

Nevertheless, some issues are critical and must be confronted in an intelligent and compassionate way. Today’s young people live in a society where anything goes. As much as we like to pretend our children are blissfully innocent, they know a WHOLE lot more than we think they know.

Sadly, Black History Month has become a dulled, dutiful event in the schools, which students gloss over and promptly forget  in the time it takes to pull a poster of notable Black folk off a bulletin board.

Kids are naturally curious and have questions. But despite the glaring nudity, profanity, and violence prevalent on every television station cable has to offer, we feel safer sticking our heads in the sand and pretending our children don’t have some inkling that life isn’t a “Little House on the Prairie” episode any longer.

The news link below features a situation in a nearby county, which is geographically where Raleigh sits, where a study of the civil war prompted a lesson for 8th grade students where they had to role play as though they were various figures who lived during that time period.

http://mediacdn.wral.com:1935/vods3/_definst_/mp4:amazons3/cbcnewmedia_wowza/57415-julia530-576×324-15-768.mp4/playlist.m3u8?wowzacaptionfile=amazons3/cbcnewmedia_wowza/57415-julia530.srt

According to the news segment, one student’s assignment was apparently to take on the role of a slave during that time. “I am a Slave” was the title of her graphic organizer, and eventual essay. Her mother was uncomfortable with the assignment and called the principal, who called central office, and it made the local news, resulting in it being removed as an assignment from the curriculum.

If I were the mother of an 8th grader, I would closely watch how the assignment unfolded and offer some enrichment at home for research purposes to help my child grasp the magnitude of slavery as an institution.

For instance, my local PBS station has recently featured documentaries about different perspectives on slavery and its eventual end in this country. We’ve been showing segments of it to our eight year old, who has been curious about slavery for the last two years. Her father took her and her older sister to see “Twelve Years a Slave,” which was so powerful my daughter was at a loss for words for a while (a rarity!). We discussed it at dinner for days afterward, and she had tons of questions.

It is interesting how many questions kids have, even 11th and 12th graders. I have been asked so many questions about life, real life, that the students didn’t feel comfortable asking their own parents.

Let’s stop pretending our children are naive and open the channels of communication with our children. Let’s have some dialogue and feed them some truths before they hear half-truths and ignorant garbage from others.

Maybe I’m wrong, but when kids are singing number one hits that have to do with anal sex, three-way scenarios, and a plethora of drug usage, do we really think they can’t handle some careful instruction about something we all need to learn from?

I can recall a wonderful student I taught recently in a British Literature class, and when we studied The Canterbury Tales, he came up to me privately and asked to not read or do his project on The Wife of Bath, who was known for her “worldly ways” with multiple men. He was a Jehovah’s Witness. Naturally, I modified his requirements for reading and writing.

Educators in general have been handcuffed from honest teaching and if parents were to work with them and ask questions, our children might be far more conscious and knowledgeable of the world around them.

Martin Luther wasn't afraid to tell some hard truths; people simply weren't ready to hear them.

Martin Luther wasn’t afraid to tell some hard truths; people simply weren’t ready to hear them.

Yesterday, I read a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog regarding the term “achievement gap.”  Apparently it is considered offensive to African American and Hispanic groups.  See: http://dianeravitch.net/2012/11/08/a-plea-stop-using-the-term-achievement-gap/

Dr. Carmika Royal claims the comparison between Whites and Blacks is “demeaning.”

When did America become so ridiculously sensitive?  As Christina Yang told Meredith Grey last night on Grey’s Anatomy, it’s time to “BUCK UP.”

Let’s pull back the curtain and be transparent for a minute.  The fact is, there IS a very real achievement gap and it exists primarily within the African American and Hispanic communities, in any given city or suburb, and it’s all over the United States. Is it pretty?  No.  Is it a hard pill to swallow? Absolutely.  As a Hispanic woman, with a Black partner, we both acknowledge it to be true, but it doesn’t mean we like it.

At the last school where I taught, the disparity between the population of White students and the the aforementioned groups was huge.  They were treated differently.  And there’s reasons for that which I don’t have time to break down.  Yes, Dorothy, there is still very real racism in America.

Back to the achievement gap.

Teachers are the usual suspects in a situation like this.  The government and its “lack of resources” also gets the finger-pointing.  You know how it goes…oh, the poor inner-city minorities get less funding, less qualified teachers, etc. etc. etc.

But that argument has no substance when you look at the Black and Hispanic students in a community like mine, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, where affluence oozes through the cracks in the concrete.  Here, the achievement gap is still rearing its ugly head.  The local paper, which is controlled by the superintendent (he and the editor are good friends) and the school board members (they’re all members of the same churches) publishes a reflective piece every year when the state releases its data, and the achievement gap persists year after year.

You don’t need a PhD in educational philosophy to see the implications.  Heck, there aren’t any IMPLICATIONS because it speaks very loudly to the core of what teachers have been saying forever.  The success of a student does not happen alone.  The other huge, monstrously obvious factor is their home environment, which includes economics, cultural norms, and parentage.

In the Black and Hispanic cultures, money is the dominant carrot. The television is the parent of many of these kids whose parents are either absent for personal issues or working.  Guess what’s on t.v.?  Jersey Shore, Pimp My Ride, celebrities gone wild, living extravagant lives, and more than I know about.  Let’s not forget reality shows which dominate the networks.

Then there’s the athletic realm, including guys like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and other players for other teams and other sports, who made their claim to fame, inspiring every inner city kid who can spin a ball on his finger to dream of a similar landscape in his life.  Unfortunately, the odds of making it to the professional leagues are pretty small.

I saved the best for last:  music.  As I have told my students numerous times, everyone loves music.  The human brain is predisposed to respond to rhythm.  It’s in our nature.  Children who grow up dropping it like it’s hot by the time they are three years old, and seeing rappers like Nelly swipe a credit card down the crack of a woman’s behind, or Beyonce and other megastars half-naked on the screen, showing more than anyone needs to see, develop an understanding of how the world works.  Sex sells.

Young girls in particular grow up with the knowledge that their bodies are their tool, their weapon of choice, to achieve their goals.  Do we wonder why there are so many young single, unwed mothers in the African American and Hispanic communities?  We are pumping it to children all across this great nation.  When I was a teenager, when MTV aired its first music video, the content wasn’t so borderline pornographic.  Why, we weren’t allowed to watch John Ritter in “Three’s Company” because it was considered indecent and immoral.  A guy living with two gorgeous females?  Are you kidding?

Over the decade of my tenure as a teacher, I taught students whose parents went to the club with them, who furnished alcohol for them at their parent-sanctioned parties, and I taught students who were one of eight or nine children, all with different “baby daddies” because the welfare checks would be greater the more children that were  listed in the household.

In the suburbs, I would bring extra snacks in my lunch tote for the students who were perpetually hungry and played sports after school because teenagers are always hungry, as everyone knows.  They often said there wasn’t much food in their houses and after practice they would have to go home and find something to eat as their parents weren’t home.

The bottom line is this:  education isn’t just a mess because of bureaucrats.  Education isn’t a consistent failure to millions of minorities across the country due to poor resources and poor teachers.

Education is a team effort.  Teachers can’t do it alone.  Parents can’t do it alone either.  Our entire nation, the culture that is evolving along with technology must recognize and be held accountable for its messages to our youth.  We don’t have to become an uptight “Footloose” nation once again but let’s let kids be kids.  And let’s establish boundaries of behavior and permissiveness.  I firmly believe if parents let go of the guilt and start holding their kids to task, and tell them every day if necessary, of how vital a decent education is, then teachers will have all eyes on them and be able to do what they need to do.

Perhaps it is too oversimplified, but the debate and discussion on education reform has become too twisted and complex, filled with pedagogical explanations that are over most Americans heads.  At the end of the day, I believe parents, teachers, and students just want a solid education and it can happen if the entire community works together.

A few years ago I read an article by a journalist named Randy Salzman (I think).  He explored the world of these young girls in the Middle East, who risked their very lives every day to read books in secret, because the Taliban did not permit them to do so.  He marveled at the contrasting picture in America, where we casually toss books aside and over there, the young girls risked it all.  They didn’t have budgets of thousands of dollars per child to educate them.  Their budget was zero.

Why can’t our country, ALL OF US, create a burning desire to read and learn, a quest for knowledge as Socrates believed, instead of glorifying the dollar?  Why would any kid want to pick up a book when nobody’s reading on t.v.?  They’re all just having sex or fighting, or making babies, or trying to win a million dollars.

It’s not the teachers who are screwed up, or the charter schools that are the anti-Christ.  It’s the message.

 

It was a trying day yesterday.  Although I dreamed the night before that Obama had won his campaign, I still felt jittery from the nervous excitement floating in the atmosphere.  Furthermore, it was another teacher work day (they just had one less than ten days ago) so my second grader was home all day, and she had a headache.  And then there’s the two-year-old.  Number six.  I’ve finally analyzed it from several different angles and come to the realization that I just don’t have the same energy and patience that I did in my twenties, when I had four children by the time I was 27.

How many ways can you say fertile????

Consequently, it was becoming difficult to stay awake to see the results from the election.  My television was tuned to CNN, of course.  Every time they announced, “Wait. Here’s a fresh NEW PROJECTION,” I sat up a little straighter, and the sleep fled for a few more minutes. I missed Romney’s concession speech, but managed to catch up this morning.

I was impressed with Mr. Romney’s graciousness.  He maintained his focused political rhetoric with precision, thanking all the right people.  But what struck me as profound were his comments on the family.  I’ll put the link below if anyone wants to see it for themselves, but he essentially advised the country with these words:

We look to our parents…for in the final analysis, everything depends on the success of our homes…”

This is the link if anyone has yet to hear his speech:

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/mitt-romney-website-live-stream-obama-victory-speech-065955180–election.html

This reminded me of something I witnessed over the weekend.  My daughter’s school had organized a Fall Play Day, which featured the typical bouncing apparatus, face painting and fun for elementary school kids, and thinning wallets for the parents.  But since it was a fundraiser, we looked at it as a win-win.

So we trudged to the school, eager to let the kids wear themselves out playing on a delicious Fall day.  As the afternoon progressed, we realized the event wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, primarily because the long lines made it frustrating for the kids to enjoy the bouncing machines or the face painting, or the balloon making activities.

Finally, when we had reached the threshold of our patience, we allowed the kids to wait in a relatively short line for the bouncing machine.  It was being manned by a mother who clearly had no discernible spine.  The kids ahead of my child were bouncing for at least ten minutes and when she tried to tell them it was time to get out, they moaned and whined, “We don’t want to.”  So she acquiesced and they jumped for an even longer period of time.

My polite and pasty smile was rapidly disappearing, as the mom “in charge” tried to laugh it all off to the crowd of kids and parents waiting.  Finally, everyone else had gotten off the apparatus but one young boy, who was probably five years old.  The MIC and the PTA mom and the child’s mom all tried to cajole the child, to no avail.

We were about to take our daughter and go home, when the begging mothers came up with a surefire plan to get the boy out of the bouncing machine.  He had reduced himself to a bawling puddle of snot in the net, but he told them if everybody outside turned around, he would get out.

Yes, that’s right.  This child basically manipulated the entire scene, and we, perfect strangers to all these people, were told to turn around so we couldn’t see him, so he could get out.  I was disgusted and irritated and exasperated all at the same time.  It was absolutely ridiculous.

What the heck is the matter with parents today?  Who is in charge here?  I have witnessed this type of situation so often in this town and other places where I have lived and it is sheer insanity.

Who is in charge of the kids today?  I don’t have all the answers and I’m the antithesis of the perfect parent.  This I am certain is true.  But common sense tells us that kids who are in diapers, kids who can’t write a complete sentence yet, kids who haven’t read a book that’s longer than 15 pages, perhaps shouldn’t be in charge of their parents, the ADULTS.

So, I was impressed with Mitt Romney’s comments on America and where we need to go from here, now that the election is done.  He is absolutely on point with his comment about parents.

Step up parents.  Stop letting your child tell you what to do, or what they want to do, or what they don’t want to do.  We won’t look at you any differently if you say no in public.  Parents today seem so afraid to let one stray hair out of place, or let the public see their smiles falter momentarily as they try to be firm with their kids, and it is resulting in some really confused kids who grow up to be angry teenagers, and domineering adults.

For those who make remarks about all the vacation time teachers have off, and how it justifies the lousy salaries they receive, think about this:

The average American 9-to-5er leaves the office, and the other part of their lives become front and center.

For the average teacher, however, when the bell rings, his/her day doesn’t end.  On any given day, there may be a faculty meeting scheduled, unpaid working hours.  However, if the teacher is fortunate enough to not have a faculty meeting, she will have to finish grading the work she couldn’t get done during her lunch break, or planning period.  Once that is completed, the teacher must prepare the board for the next day of school, review her lessons, and prepare to go to the long line at the copy machine, of other equally exhausted teachers who will be too busy dropping their kids off in the morning to take the risk that the copy machine might be available.

So they wait.  Some days, the teachers stand there, like recent suspects at the county jail, awaiting their mug shots to be taken.  On a Monday, it is entirely possible that friendly conversations may still ensue, chit chat about the weekend and, “Hey, did you watch the Falcons game yesterday?”

But by Wednesday afternoon, the head is aching, the limbs are weary, and all the teachers want to do is go home.  “Is it Friday yet?” someone will venture to say, only to be met with commiserating grunts.

While they are at the copy machine, another teacher down the hall has been waiting for 35 minutes for the parent to show up for their conference.  He has called twice, only to be told that mom is “on the way.”  He watches the clock ticking, wondering if he can squeeze in a power nap, and if he would have enough time to wake up and wash his face before the parent’s arrival.

Still not being paid.

Mom marches down the hallway towards the classroom with the door open and the teacher at the copy machine summons up a half-smile and a polite “Hello” before thanking God she didn’t have that conference today.

Back in the classroom, mom sat down in the designated chair, and with no apology for her tardiness, she proceeded to list on her fingers the problems, as she saw them.

1. “My son says you don’t like him.”

2. “My son says you give too much homework.”

3. “My son has a 504 plan and you are not meeting his modifications.”

4. “My son hasn’t passed any of his unit tests because he says you can’t teach.”

5. “My son plans on becoming a neurosurgeon and an entrepreneur and you’re not preparing him for his bright future.”

The teacher takes a deep breath, forces himself to don a neutral, and empathetic countenance, and proceeds to explain himself, placate the mother, and escape with both of his testicles still intact.

“I’m sorry to hear that your son feels this way…”  [This was one of the tips in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; I believe it falls under habit #5.]

“But let me assure you, I have never done anything that would suggest I don’t like your son. In fact, I really like all my students,” the teacher continues.  But mom interrupts with,

“Oh, so are you calling my son a liar?  We’re Christians and we don’t lie!  I raised my son right!” begins the irate mother, who proceeds to take her long, miserable day out on the teacher.

The Parent Conference

What follows is what this teacher wishes he could say to a parent like this:

Ma’am, I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to meet with me about your concerns.  It’s always a step in the right direction when we can work together to resolve concerns.  I try my hardest to meet each of my student’s  needs, with the goal always being their success.   Let me try to discuss each of your primary concerns.

I’m sorry your son feels that I don’t like him.  I really enjoy teaching high school seniors.  I love their sense of humor, their frankness, and the discussions we have in this Honors English class.  However, your son doesn’t give me, or himself for that matter, a chance.  He prefers to sit in the back of the room and use his cell phone until I tell him (at least three times each day) to put it away.  He does not take part in any class discussions and the one time I tried to engage him, he gave me the finger and told me to “fuck off.” 

That’s the reason he was written up the first time.

Nevertheless, I sense that your son has a great deal to offer the class if he were to try.  How do I know?  Well, we write in personal journals twice a week, and the one entry he made this year was a very heartfelt and intriguing comment on an article we read about how technology is killing societal interaction. 

Furthermore, this is an Honors class and homework is expected on a regular basis, whether it is at home reading, studying, or writing.   I only assign homework that is vital to the curriculum and/or as part of a major essay.  I also assign homework which will enable revisions of written work.  I try not to assign any homework over the weekend because I know how busy seniors are these days.  

According to my grade book, here’s your printed copy, your son has only completed one assignment out of eighteen tasks.  I even let students to turn it in one day late for partial credit.  Your son has never attempted to use this option either.  

Regarding your son’s 504 plan, it calls for preferential seating towards the front of the class, but he refuses to sit in his assigned seat.  I cannot stop class for ten minutes to deal with this battle, so I have given in and I make the offer at least once or twice each week for him to sit near the front of the room.  It also states he should have the option of a separate setting environment for tests.  I have made arrangements with the person who would give him the test, but he refuses to go.  On test days, he moves his seat closest to the student with the highest average in class, and spends the entire time trying to cheat from her.  I have sent him out of the room to the office twice now for the same offense.  

Perhaps on test days, I can notify you in advance, and YOU can come to school and sit with him as he takes his unit tests.  Maybe then he will not attempt to cheat.  Or maybe, just maybe, he will actually use the study guide I have provided for him a week before the test, instead of leaving it under his desk as he normally does.

Your son may say I can’t teach and he’s right.  There are some days when I can’t teach, because there are so many student disruptions during class.  On an average day, in this honors class, I have to send at least three girls to the office for skirts so short the class can see their thongs, or cell phone use in class, or students who need to use the restroom, or administrative interruptions, intercom interruptions, and other issues.  It is very hard to keep engaging students into a discussion of the role of medieval women in Chaucerian literature when these things occur.  

Finally, I would like to say the same thing to you that I tell my entire classroom full of students.  Life is about more than a text message, more than Twitter updates, more than the cell phone.  They may need to read literature that was written hundreds of years ago, but it will broaden their perspectives, force them to think about the sublime, learn how to debate, see the relationships between people, and communicate effectively.  The literature amounts to the tools that make a person ready to face whatever life has to throw at them, and it is incumbent upon each of them to embrace all of it, just as I did, just as you did as their parent.  

Your son is now 19 years old and it’s time he stood up on his own two feet, and if he has concerns, I would be glad to sit down with him and find the best solution for everyone.  My job is his success, and I can’t do it without him.  

Thank you for your time.

I gave up a home phone years ago, when I, along with other brilliant Americans, realized that there were far too many taxes on a home phone bill, and anyone who really needed to reach me would find me via the cellular phone.  I was paying a fortune for several lines for my children so communicating with them as I was the chauffeur extraordinaire, was not an issue.

Not all six children!  Of course not.  In my household, a child became eligible for a cellphone if they met both of the following criteria: straight A’s on their report card upon entering 9th grade and well…being a ninth grader.  This might seem archaic to some of you who give your offspring a cellphone in utero, as I was the supreme goddess of my house, I made the rules.

Since 2003, I gave each of my classes my cellphone number.  Gasp! goes the crowd of teachers, shaking their heads in staunch disapproval.  It was modestly featured on my course syllabus at the beginning of the year, adjacent to my classroom number.

My rationale is simple: eliminate excuses.  If a student had a question about their homework, or essay, or studying for a quiz or test the next day, they could text or call and hear the information/get the help from the source: the teacher.  Students are notorious for providing their peers with erroneous information.  I recently concluded that it must be subconsciously intentional.

This helped my case when it came time to speaking with parents as well.  It solidified my case.  When we sat down at any given parent conference, I would whip out the student’s grade sheet with all or some of the homework assignments marked as “missing,” widen my eyes in feigned innocence (as students do) and casually explain my confusion because if there was a problem with any assignments, Bobby could have called or texted me.  At that point (the best part of the conference) Bobby would sink lower into his seat, knowing his life had been clearly shortened.

Over the years I have given out my cellphone number to thugs, schizophrenics, students with a rap sheet longer than my daughter’s chain of dirty diapers that are encircling the globe as we speak, destroying the earth for her great grandchildren.  I’ve given my cell phone number to students who sat in class and never spoke a word until the bell rang, when they would quietly announce as I passed, “I’m gonna fuck you up bitch!”

But I never flinched.  I’ve given my cell number to students who hated me, loved me, and used my face for their dartboard entertainment matches on Friday nights.  In all those years (well, it’s not that many), I’ve never had a problem with harassment of any kind, until this past year, while working in affluent, white bread Chapel Hill.

See, I also liked to use technology to teach or reinforce learning in my classroom.  So every now and then, usually just once a year, I play a cellphone game.  The premise is simple: for a major unit test, like the Middle Ages, I offer extra points on the test and students whip out their cellphones and have to text me the answer to the questions I shoot out to them in class.  If a student does not happen to have a phone (exceedingly RARE) then they team up with another.  In general students love it and it’s always a refreshing change of pace for a stodgy old literature class.

Well, after several classes of this, I was wiped out.  I sat at my desk, too numb to move.  Suddenly, a text message popped up on my phone.  I knew it was a student number.  When I opened the message, it was a picture of…well, it was a pornographic position on a desk in the school.

Shocked? Horrified? Disgusted?  Yes, all of the above.  I felt violated and taken advantage of.  I felt demoralized and angry that my honest attempt to teach with enthusiasm and energy was so callously and immaturely thrown in my face.  A few hours later, I received another equally disgusting photo via text message.

Aren’t their laws about this kind of thing?  Isn’t this a serious offense these days?  I couldn’t touch my phone all weekend because of how disgusting it seemed and I couldn’t delete it because I had to show it to my administration.  Yes, it was a sad weekend.

  This is getting lengthy so I’ll try to…oh, heck, who am I kidding?  Have you ever known an English teacher who didn’t talk forever??

I narrowed it down to the class, don’t ask me how, and contacted each parent in said class, explaining the situation and giving the number so the perpetrator would come forth.  I researched the legal issue involved and the consequences, mentioning that as well in my email.  Well, the whole thing exploded on Monday morning.

I also emailed my administrators, who called me into their office first thing, to reprimand me for contacting the parents.  They wanted to be the ones to do damage control and tell the parents only what they needed to know…which was nothing. Area 51 anybody?

Well, the kid was from a very well to do family, white bread, educators, the whole package.  It was a dumb moment for him.  He apologized to me.  We were both uncomfortable  All I wanted was an apology.  There were parents who were demanding I be fired for upsetting their sensitive children with this uncomfortable situation.  It was beyond stupidity.  I didn’t do anything, after all.  The kid did.

He apologized.  We moved on.  I had my wrist slapped for even trying to utilize technology in the classroom…wait!  Did you catch that?  All the latest pressure and monetary investment in the billions of dollars has been to plug up every kid to a computer and teach us teachers how to teach more creatively.  Ahh…another sip of coffee…the contradictions of the education system.  What a mess!

About ten days ago, I received a foul and profanity-laden text message from another white bread, very high up on the food chain former student of mine.  A pretentious kid really.  I used all my Behavior Analysis Unit skills I learned from being a Criminal Minds junkie to try to piece together the identity of the student.  I have it narrowed down to two.  After all the “suck my dick” comments and telling me what a horrible teacher I was, I finally threatened to go to the police with the messages and press charges for harassment unless he lost my number and refrained from texting me anymore.

But it stuck in my gut you see.  Here I am. Not teaching, trying to figure out this thing called life and my next steps.  Maybe he was right.  I know I’m not perfect.  But perhaps I did suck as a teacher.  Maybe all those notes and hugs and post high school visits from former students was all a gentle lie.  Maybe this pretentious fool was right, after all.

I am the stupid one.  I stood up for injustice and falsifying grades.  I challenged the superintendent and did not get my contract renewed.  This week it seems to me it might have been better to keep my mouth shut, as thousands of other teachers do, and go along with the whole mess we call education in America.