Why Can’t Inner City Kids Learn?April 18, 2007 at 12:00 pm | Posted in education, elementary, gangs, inner city, poverty, schools, teachers | 19 Comments
I just about fell out of my chair when I saw that in my e-mail box this morning. I guess my blog is starting to reach some people.
The purpose of my blog of course is to have a space for ME to communicate to ME all the good things and all the bad things that happen to me as an inner city teacher. Amazingly, I’ve made contact with some awesome, positive teachers out in the world, which is very encouraging. But the reason why I started this blog is because at my inner city school, I am surrounded by some very negative, pessimistic, and awful teachers.
And the big question with these teachers is, “Why can’t these kids learn?” Their attitude is clear. They delivered the curriculum. Why can’t these kids learn? They’re just not motivated, or they’re born with crack in their systems, or it’s their parents’ fault, gang bangers the lot of them.
At a “professional development” meeting three weeks ago, the conversation once again turns to “Why can’t these kids learn?” even though we were supposed to be discussing methods of positively motivating our students.
I finally just said bluntly, “Actually, I don’t see these problems with my students. They’re not perfect, but they’re fairly well behaved and we work hard, but we learn.”
Moment of awkwardness. Then, the conversation turns to how to keep these unruly kids from getting out of their seats constantly or tattle-telling on each other.
Why Can’t These Kids Learn?
There are many reasons why these kids can’t learn. I shall just list the reasons I personally have witnessed at my school among my colleagues.
- The teacher sits at her desk and yells at the students. Nothing is written on the board as the teacher never leaves her seat or points generally in the direction of the chart she’s referring to, thus confusing the students.
- The teacher humiliates students. The teacher yells at students things such as, “Why can’t you learn?” or “Didn’t I just show this to you?” Student immediately shuts down and refuses to learn.
- Teacher shows up late to pick up the students in the morning, late to pick up students at recess, and late to pick up students at lunch. Teacher yells at students for being tardy. Teacher demonstrates lack of commitment, so why should students be committed?
- Teacher spends much of class time looking for materials that she hasn’t prepared for the lesson. She leaves class to work on a quiet activity while she goes to the copy room or to another teacher to borrow materials. She yells at students for not being quiet while she’s trying to get her act together for the lesson.
- Five minutes into a lesson, the teacher is reading the teacher guide to see what she has to teach. Students have to wait quietly while she figures out what they’re supposed to learn.
- Teacher doesn’t know the purpose of a lesson, so teaches an entirely different lesson (probably due to her unpreparedness). I love this one as its very prevalent at my school. Here’s an example. The lesson is a 20 minute lesson in our reading program that’s supposed to teach students comprehension attack strategy. The teacher spends an hour forcing the students to read the entire passage one table at a time in order and shooting rapid-fire on-the-surface recall questions at five kids (ignoring the fact that everyone else isn’t paying attention) in an attempt to make sure that everyone understands the content of the story. Then, there’s the teacher who, when it was time to teach the content of the story, instead of focusing on the theme of the unit, money, spends a week on segregation and wonders why her kids didn’t focus on the writing prompt in the assessment. Funny!
- Students do one worksheet after another that the teacher finds valuable in one of those books you find at the teacher store and gets upset when advised by the administration to focus on the standards and the curriculum. The reason why she’s upset is because education these days don’t allow teachers creativity. The students get more worksheets nonetheless while she sits at her desk or beautifies her classroom. These are all true stories! Honest!
- Teacher puts on a video in the last hour of the day because, you know, the kids are getting unruly and needs a break. The videos are not even tangential to the students learning. Fridays are the worst.
- Everyday is drawing, art, and music day. This is particularly cruel and prevalent in the younger classes and the Special Ed classes. You can always tell which students come from these teachers…It’s very sad because they are far behind all the other students academically and in second grade have to learn skills that they should have learned in Kindergarten.
I can go on and on!
I mentioned that I substituted five days in another third grade teacher’s class about a week and a half ago. At the end of the five days, the grandmother of one of the students asked me if he can transfer into my classroom instead because “I’m not saying Mr. XXX is a bad teacher, but XXX did so much work when he’s with you and he didn’t get into trouble at all, but Mr. XXX is always telling me how XXX is bad and he ain’t with you.”
I had a frozen smile on my face and can only assure her that her grandson is actually quite capable and just needs motivation to stay focus on his work. Her grandson definitely has a focusing problem, but that’s my job, right? To motivate him to learn.