At-Risk Students by Bill Page
Dramatic, compelling, sobering accounts of the frustration,discomfiture, and defensive ploys of students at risk, through the eyes and from the heart of a teacher who views failure from the students' perspective. Their notorious misbehavior, ranging from incompetence and disrespect to clowning, apathy, and defiance is a cover up for embarrassment and failure. Through vignettes and essays, the author places the reader firmly in the stuedents' moccasins and presents a reality check for teachers coping with disruptive, disobedient kids.
If You Ask the Wrong Questions, You Get the Wrong Answers
Every question contains a set of assumptions with built -in limitations in
the parameters of our thinking about the answers. Therefore, we should
always "question the questio before we answer the question.
The question" What is the best textbook to use in this course?" might result
in an excellent choice of textbook. But the question "Should we use a
textbook in this course?" could result in an entirely different answer. With
that prompt, one might consider using community resources, guest speakers,
or multimedia sources in lieu of a textbook. However,the question" Should
we offer this course?"requires a very different set of considerations and
different decisions.The question most frequently frames the answer,limits
the alternatives, and always influences the answer.
For questions that are especially difficult to answer, maybe the
question should be questioned before the answer is answered. Tough,
nagging, chronic questions are probably so because of the complexity
or ambiguity of the question, not because of difficulty in answering. To
answer the question "What should we do about the dropout problem?" other
questions must first be considered:" Who is the we? Society? The state? The
school district? The school? The dropout's family? Is 'problem'singular or
plural? Does the 'do about'refer to eliminating the problem,finding causes,
or seeking alternatives? Are 'dropouts' all in a single category or all subject
to the same singular solution?"
Every question has aset of assumptions and built-in limitations that are likely to determine or skew the answer. Word connotation, whom you
ask, how you ask it, completeness of the answer and even who's asking
the context and voice inflection, will help determine the answer. Political
pollsters understand the question/answe relationship and use it to their
advantage. I'm afraid too many educators argue about solutions without
questioning their assumptions and considering the limited framework and undefined terms involved.
I wrote an article entitled, "We Get What We Get," which appears as chapter in this book. The chapter ends with this paragraph:
Within the politics, mandates, mission,goals,strategic planning,
curriculum,and educational policies,we take kids where they are
and we teach them. We teach them whatever is required by thoserules and within that structure. We teach unconditionally--no excuses, no exceptions!
A teacher named Laurie responded to the article by wayof e-mail with the following concerns:
So, how do we teach the kird who has had five hours of sleep,sees no value in the lessons we teach, watches his/her brother make hundreds of dollars selling drugs, does not even know how to spell his/her name correctly at age 10,and is sitting in our crassroom day after day, wondering what this school thing is all about? Not to mention, making it almost impossible to teach those students who do want to be there?
After twenty years, I have also realized we are not going to change the kids we have right now, but how are we going to change this society to value education? Give me your tired,your poor...but how can we show them there is a way out of their situation? Maybe they are not college-bound, but they also don't have to be on the path to the penitentiary.
I reply with the following:
Thanks for your response to my article. I know that you are sincere in your reply, and I am pleased to respond in like candor:
"So, how do we.......?" Who is the" we" of whom you speak? In
my article I thought it was clear that the "we" is individual
teachers. In so many of the problems to which you refer, the "we" has to do with society, legislators, government, parents
and administrators-people over whom I have no control and,
so far as I can determine, little or no influence, whatsoever.
So answer #1 is: The most I as a teacher can do, is what I can
do. I certainlyc annotb e expectedt o do more than I can do. But
the least I can do is what I can do. I will do what is within my
purview, my jurisdiction, my decision- making power; however
limited. Somehow, I really do believe it is better to "light one
little candle than to curse the darkness."
"...has had 5 hours sleep..". I f a kid has not had sufficient sleep,
I would, after a discussion, consideration of alternatives and
mutual decision, probably let him/her sleep in my class. S/he
probably needs sleep more than my lessons. I. would even hope
an administrator would see the kid sleeping and say somethingabout it so I could explain my actions and maybe get some needed help.
"...does not even know how to spell his/her name correctly at age 10..." If s/he can't spell his/hername after three years in school,I would begin with that issue as an individual curriculum rather than the third-grade spelling list or other obviously inappropriate grade-three material designated for the class.
If he/she "sits there day after day," disengaged, I would give the kid some recognition or prestige; have him/her become my personal teaching assistants; show the other kids my respect for him; make him/her feel useful, or give him/her some special projects to do. I might also solicit help from other adults to interact with the kid. In any case,I can guarantee you I would not let him/her "sit there doing nothing," even for a matter of minutes much less "day after day."
"...we are not going to change the kids we have now...." WRONG! These are the kids we must change. It is where we have to start-today. What the nincompoops who framed the "No Child Left Untested Act" failed to understand is that the student achievement they demand will occur or fail to occur in the classrooms, and it will happen to each student and involve each teacher in each classroom. We cannot neglect the students we have right now. Their time, as well as our time to act, is now.
Teachers do not need the lockstep, predetermined curriculum; the predigested, direct-instruction, boring lessons; the bureaucratic intrusion into classrooms; and they certainly don't need the meaningless, inappropriate, demeaning evaluation and ranking
of their students'and their school's test scores. But teachers still have the opportunit each day to begin making changes within their limited realm of decision-making,if they will. They can create "wiggle room" within the school policies and they can find a degree of autonomy behind" their closed-door corner of their little world."
"...but how are we going to change this society to value education?" While the answer lies, again,in the meaning of the word "we" and the definition of "society,"education is the way it is because those in charge made it that way, and only they can change it. Until those pompous,self-aggrandizing,non educator, politicos come to the realization that teachers are theanswer, not the problem, teachers must accept their relegated role and work within it. "Ya gotta dance with them that brung ya."
Teachers do the work of education and they must be empowered to determine the learning needs in their individual classrooms.They must have the autonomy to teach each child. Teachers are the heart and soul of education and they know their students better than anyone "up there" can possibly know individual students'needs. There is a difference in "knowing about" a kid and "knowing" a kid. I know my kids! Only their parents and
immediate families could know them better. But even they do not know them as well as teachers in relation to schoolwork,school contexts and the teaching-learning process.
Meanwhile, unless or until the ninnies "up there" get their heads out of their arrogant, naive, deleterious, politically motivated assessments, we, the teachers,must fight on behalf of the kids as well as ourselves, our profession and the parents. We, the individual classroom teachers,must begin the change process-changing our classroom
procedures, our expectations,our attitudes,interactions and our daily activities.
We must reexamine our fundamental teaching-learning relationships and reflect on our individual responsibility for making a difference in our classrooms and ourselves each
day,beginning right now.Neither we, nor our kids,have time to wait. I am the only one who can change me, and you are the only one who can change you and how you choose to interact
in vour classroom. Principals must work within their realm; superintendents and state department people they can do and soon.
With Joy in Sharing,
Laurie's further response:
Thank you for your reply. Sometimes I feel like I am living on another planet and that my thinking about education is so off the mark. Thanks for making me feel a little better about swimming upstream. After 20 years, you'd think I would have become a better more calloused to the whole bureaucracy deal. Guess I have to realize that my love and caring is what kids need. I do know my kids and I thank you for all your comments. I will read your other articles, maybe during the Martin Luther King holiday. There is hope...I " know. Thanks for reinforcing my thoughts.
Your comments and reactions to this articre are wercome. Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Printed with permission from Educational Dynamics Publishing Company.
At-Risk Students Feeling Their Pain, Understanding Their Defensive Ploys by Bill Page
| Bill Page, a farm boy who graduated from a one-room school, attended a rural high school, flunked out of college, and was drafted into the Korean War. Later, with maturity, military experience and the G.I. Bill, he received his teaching credentials. He became a specialist, teaching middle-school "troublemakers." Bill went on to originate and direct a successful USOE research program for six years. Then for 26 years he taught teachers across the nation to teach the lowest achieving students with his proven premise, "Failure is the choice and fault of schools--not students.