Husband is so great. Whenever there’s a news show about education, he TiVos it for me and we watch it together. Even on our 1st anniversary, while vacationing, he noticed that CSPAN was covering an education debate and we watched it together. He even lets me yell at the TV, and pauses for my commentary. Now that’s true love, right? So many times, I would love to hop in the TV and shake the politicians who don’t get it.
Case and point: This morning,“This Week with Christiane Amanpour” had its yearly education debate. I say yearly, because they NEVER talk about education on these shows except for the one week before school starts. Education gets the shaft in coverage on the news. So this morning, I got all excited for my 8-minute segment about education.
Then, Arne Duncan, Education Secretary opened his mouth. Allow me to summarize:
We need to do what works and not do what doesn’t work!
Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers added,
We should start doing what works and stop doing what doesn’t!
Michelle Rhee, chancellor or DC schools:
We should keep good teachers and get rid of bad teachers.
AAARRRG. I suppose it is hard to get to anything of substance in 8 minutes, to their credit. There was some banter about teacher evaluations and student performance that had some actual substance, but if I was left with only stupid talking points. Mind you, none of those talking points mentioned mental and physical health as a component in student achievement.
*Dusts off soap box*
People. You can’t learn if you don’t feel well emotionally or physically. You can be the best teacher in the world, but if your students come to you with trauma and bad health, you have a greater challenge. Poverty is no longer a sentence for underachievement, but it certainly makes things harder for teachers, who have to be teacher, social worker, mom, educator, and advocate. What is the incentive for teachers and school psychologists to work in poorer schools, with less resources and more challenges? I mean, other than the obvious great sense of civic pride, social justice, and great cocktail conversations (e.g. “Today I talked a kid with a knife down from a flagpole. How was your day?).?*
The politicians just don’t get it. They aren’t at the schools every day, trying to close the achievement gap from a janitor’s closet or shoddy classroom with outdated computers that don’t print, and no materials or support. Wake up, people. As my dear Internet BFF Mrs. Mimi says, “You can’t fire poverty, so they fire teachers.” Are there crap teachers I wish would go away? Yes. Are there super teachers who should get paid CEO salaries for all they do? Yes. But blaming the teachers is not right. So, what should we do? I don’t want to be all Arne on you and say “let’s be innovative and do new things!” and have no substance.
My answer is simple and biased.
In high poverty schools, hire more mental health professionals. It’s a simple Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs situation. If you don’t have your primary needs of safety, food, health, and belonging, you are less free emotionally to learn. Think of a time when you just found out a friend or family member died. Maybe you have a time in your life when you were a victim of a crime—think of your emotional state. Or even think of a really difficult time in your life when you weren’t sure if you could pay your bills. Did you feel free to sit down and read a novel for fun? Were you inclined to do algebra algorithms to soothe yourself? Or did you need support from another human being to get back to functioning normally? Well imagine you are a kid with trauma or worries and you don’t have strong coping skills or an adult to support you. You are not ready for learning. Often, our teachers in poor areas become de-facto counselors as well as teachers.
I am always struck by the contrast between my poorer schools and my more affluent schools. Each year, I return to school by going to my multiple sites and sitting in on professional developments. Year after year, in the poorer schools, we talk about sparking motivation and a sense of safety and belonging in students, and we try to garner outside resources we could pull in to help our students. In my schools in affluent neighborhoods, we talk about new composting programs, new PTA-sponsored programs, and how hard it is to show improvement in test scores when the majority of the school is already at the top.
Is anyone else depressed? So sorry to be all Jonathan Kozel on you. I’ll leave you with this palate-cleansing image:
Now, we go forth and do the good work that we know makes a difference. Even if our test scores don’t always show it. Oh, and grab yourself an awesome spouse who lets you rant about education all the time. It really helps.
*Awesome side note: At my reading for The Teachable Moment, a presenter overhead an audiance member say, "Wow, I had no idea school psychologists were so...gritty." Spread the word. We are full of courage and resolve. Also, covered in grit.