It’s 7:30 a.m. Nearly 1,400 students are roaming the hallways, gathering their materials from their lockers, greeting their friends, and making their way toward their first class. It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. A panoramic of these students will reveal an unimaginable story.
Close examination of the picture will reveal 70 students (1-in-20) are known to be homeless. Countless more are likely, as well. Nearly 700 of these students come from low-income homes, 308 (22 percent), according to the U.S. Census data, live below the federal poverty standards, and 168 (12%), live in extreme poverty, or at 50% of the federal poverty standard, which is about $13,000 annually for a family of four.
In our attempt to educate every child, we end up not educating any child well.
There’s more. If this picture could speak, it would inform us that 251 (17.9%) are food-insecure, according to the USDA, and 221 (15.8 percent), rely on summer food programs provided by their school district. We’d also learn 490 (35 percent) come from single-family homes, and 28 have experienced severe abuse. Much more have experienced lesser forms of abuse or violence. According to Kentucky Youth Advocates, 700 of those students would have started Kindergarten unprepared.
This snapshot is a fair representation of my school and the near 1,400 students who attend. We likely have way more victims of severe trauma, considering nearly half of our students come from impoverished areas of Louisville. Why do these numbers matter? They matter when determining what we, as a society, expect from our schools and teachers.
What do you expect from me, as a teacher? What are you expecting from my school. I feel you are asking for way too much, considering what you are willing to give and sacrifice for all to be provided. So the question we must address is, are schools simply institutions of learning, or do we expect them to be much, much more.
Look closer at the image and you’ll notice so much more. You’ll see a teacher providing a child with food, school materials, a coat, a comforting ear. You’ll see a teacher receiving verbal abuse from students, you will likely see a teacher deescalating two students about to fight, you’ll see multiple teachers fighting with copiers and other resources, which are sub-standard and rarely work, you may see a teacher receiving verbal abuse from a parent because their child didn’t meet school expectations or complete assigned work, and you’ll see teachers staring at each other, asking themselves, what’s next and why are these district people here to disrupt their day, pile on more work, and leave without offering the slightest support?
In case you were wondering, it’s now 7:40 a.m. and the tardy bell has rung. Many students are still in the hall, some are verbally attacking teachers for simply asking them to go to class, and no, meaningful consequences do not exist for this behavior. Throughout the school day, teachers will lose on average, 30 minutes of instructional time, or 2.5 hours per week, or 3 weeks per year, dealing with student misbehavior. In JCPS, these students are rarely removed from the class. On Friday, I spent the first 10 minutes of one of my classes standing in another hallway, preventing a kid twice my size, from assaulting another student and teacher. Security eventually showed, allowing me to return to class, but by the time I got my class settled and started on real instruction, 20 minutes had passed. I don’t blame security. They were putting out fires and handling situations elsewhere, and there are only two of them. We do not have a school resource officer.
Who is to blame? There is a lot to throw around. However, most target the schools and their administrators, most point the figure at the school district. However, the reality is, blame rests squarely on policy makers and society. Our lawmakers and the general public are to blame for so many of the issues which exist in our schools. It’s unrealistic expectations from uncooperative parents, unfunded mandates, conservative and liberal politics. So let’s really answer the question – what do you expect from our schools?
If you are expecting our schools to act as mental health institutions, to be the primary food source, to offer school materials, to teach your children manners, to basically be surrogate parents, to intervene in violent situations, to accept verbal and physical assaults, to protect your child during a school-shooting, then you better start shelling out more money and be accepting of any amount of tax increase.
We have a full-time mental health provider in our school. One. We have two counselors. Teachers are expected to teach 90 percent of their school day, meaning much of their work is done outside of school hours. Go back to the numbers at the beginning of this article and begin imagining a new picture. Invision a picture of a budget needed to provide all the necessary services needed, to provide the personnel required, and to provide teacher resources and materials, to meet societies’ demands of schools and teachers. Then ask yourself, is this what you want? I can assure you the amount of funding needed will be astronomical.
If you aren’t willing to make the sacrifice needed, then stop asking for so much. Don’t expect me to purchase your child’s school supplies. Don’t expect our one mental health professional and two counselors to meet the needs of hundreds of children. Don’t expect me to teach your child more than content, to teach them manners, to effectively raise your child for you. Don’t expect me to go the extra mile when your child chooses not to complete work or misbehave. Don’t expect me to de-escalate your child when they become violent. Just let me teach. Let our school be an institution of learning.
Some teachers have a superhero complex. They think they can accomplish all of the above. Reality – they cannot. All we as teachers and schools can do is provide the best opportunity and environment possible for children to be successful. At the end of the day, education is a two-way road. We need students and parents to live up to their responsibility.
What should happen when students do not live up to their responsibility? They should be removed from the situation. About 8 percent of students accounted for disciplinary referrals in my school last year. I am tired of sacrificing the education of more than 90 percent of students. In our attempt to educate every child, we end up not educating any child well.
Before you say, discipline those kids. Kick those kids out of school. Suspend those kids. We can’t. School administrators are handcuffed by district administrators, who are hog-tied by state policy makers and lawmakers, from both ends of aisle. Some want to dismantle education, so want to take bureaucracy to higher heights. Both are destroying our schools and driving good teachers from the profession.
Lastly, you, John Q. Taxpayer, who keeps demanding more and more from public education, but offers little in support, you are destroying our schools. Figure out what you expect, and get back to us and those powers who control our fate.