At the end of the school day as students lined up to go out, I noticed one of my students (not one I spoke of before) looking furtive. Another student came up to me to mention that A____ took J_____’s shoes.
Our school has extremely high rate of poverty. Every once in awhile, our school gets a large donation of shoes (thanks to the hard work of our attendance counselor) and every student receives shoes. We picked up our shoes yesterday, but J_____ was absent yesterday and today.
So I gently asked A_____ to give back the shoes. He did, though he seemed upset. He’s never taken anything like this before. I asked him why he took the shoes. “I don’t know,” came the sad answer, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” I asked him where his shoes were and didn’t he receive a pair yesterday. “My uncle took them.” Whoa!
Turns out, the uncle was near A____’s age and size. The uncle went to another school so didn’t get a new pair of shoes. He needed a pair, so the family gave A____’s shoes to his uncle.
Sigh. Like I said, this is unusual behavior for him. He just wanted a new pair of shoes like everyone else. In fact, he wanted his pair. He didn’t really want J___’s pair.
Luckily, I had an extra pair of shoes because one of my boys left the school. I gave them to A_____ and told him that his family couldn’t give these to someone else. The shoes were too big, but he could trade them for an appropriately sized pair at Payless Shoe Source.
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.
Keep an eye out for the students who periodically are absent from school with a “personal reason” excuse. Ask them and you may find that their answer is, “My mom says I have no clean laundry so I can’t go to school.”
I always have at least one student, sometimes two or three students, every year who can’t come to school because they have no clean clothes. They may be homeless, their parents may work many hours and can’t go to the laundromat regularly, they may not have the $10 or so to do the laundry this week, whatever.
There isn’t any point in lecturing the students, so don’t.
What you may be able to do is ask the school counselor to take the student to School Bell or a similar program. School Bell gives clothes, shoes, and backpacks to the neediest of the students.
This will give the student additional clothes that may just be enough to last them till the next laundry day, thus lowering their incidence of absences.
A blog truly pissed me off today. You can read my ranting comment in reply.
The blogger might have meant to say something entirely different, but what I gathered from the post was that this blogger believes that technology is extremely important for the future of education, so teachers need to get out of their comfort level and start using technology in the classroom.
*SCREAM OF RAGE*
You can gather from my reply what my technology situation is in my inner city classroom.
While I love to whine and rage on so, eventually, I also take action. I am now beginning my campaign to get an LCD projector or Smartboard and twenty laptops into my classroom.
Please donate to my donorschoose.org proposal and help us get technology in the classroom. Even $5 will help! I mean it! Every little bit counts toward something…a sense of hope for the future, a glimpse of what may be.
Here’s an interesting story. My new next-door teacher loves yoga. So, three months ago, she decided to teach her students yoga as part of Physical Education (coming along very well!). She purchased yoga mats and brought them to school. The kids were so excited! One of them said, “It would be so cool to sleep on this!” You just gotta pause for a moment at a comment like that coming from a third grader.
Turned out a third of her students don’t have a bed to sleep on at home. They sleep on the floor in the living room. The couch is probably reserved for the adults.
The teacher sent home the mats of course and purchased new ones for the classroom.
Q: That’s a good point. What should educators and school board leaders know about the motivation of kids in poverty? What is it they’re looking for? They’re not looking for a grade, are they?
No, it doesn’t mean anything. Because they don’t know anybody that went to college and they know they’re not going to college. And then people get mad because they change an “F” to an “A”. Well, why? It was just a mark.
The primary motivator of whether or not kids in poverty will learn is whether they like the teacher. It’s that relationship. It comes down to two things: you’ve got to teach them how to live in the paper world, and you have to have a relationship of respect with them.
Dr. Payne’s work will be the subject of the workshop, “Effectively Educating Students from Economically Diverse Backgrounds,” at CSBA’s Annual Education Conference and Trade Show on Dec. 3 in San Diego.
From a Q&A with Ruby Payne
It’s nice to know that my instincts are correct sometime! A teacher sent me this link to an interview with Ruby Payne. I’ve already forwarded information about Ruby Payne to folks at my school. Hopefully we can get the training!
One of the first thing I do as an educator is build relationships with my students and my parents. It is a purely selfish reason. If the kids like me and know me, they won’t give me a hard time. More than that, they work hard for me everyday. My students have much going on in their lives. I’ve said it before, education is a low priority for them, but a solid relationship with their teacher can get them through the day.
I’m not saying I’m chummy with the kids. I’m hardly chummy with my students. I get to know them. They get to know me. I show respect to them. They show respect to me. I am firm and consistent with them, they know where they stand with me.
In the morning, I welcome them by saying, “Good morning!” to each and every student. That tells them today will be a good day. For the rest of the day, I work to provide them a safe learning environment. At the end of the day, I shake their hands and say “Good night! I’ll see you tomorrow!” They leave knowing they are loved and respected without my ever having to say the words.
Some simple things I do to build relationships. I listen to their stories. I invite some students to join me for lunch and begin a personal dialogue with them. I share true stories about my life with them at appropriate time (like writing). I bring my family in to meet them a few times a year. I go to their birthday parties. I ask how they’re feeling today if they don’t look so good. I meet their siblings on the yard and get introduced. I assure a means of communication with me, whether a note on my desk or an appointment at recess.
These are all little things and yet it adds up to a classroom of enthusiastic learners.