School Dilemma: An Analysis and Proposed Remedy

Ironically, the persistently acim teachers, the ones who have refused to tolerate the attrocious behaviors of poorly prepared, recalcitrant students, and to pass them on to the next higher grade when they’ve failed to achieve passing marks, are those who have been unjustly censured by their school principals, and the central DC administration, for earnestly endeavoring, but failing to educate these chronically incorrigible preadolescent and adolescent children.

After bending over backwards to help these children learn, these teachers have been terribly villified for refusing to mollycoddle them and to certify that they were suitable for promotion, when they weren’t. Teachers should not be made responsible for the negative and hostile attitudes that accompany public school children from their homes into the classroom, and they should not be required to spend their valuable time indulging the anti-social behaviors of such students. Parents, instead, should be held responsible, under law, for the prevailing negative attitudes of their children, and the classroom behaviors these poor attitudes generate.

Yet, in August 2008, seventy-five certified D.C. teachers were dismissed by D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee for conduct she considered unbecoming of public school teachers. This conduct ranged from skipping required meetings and violating protocols with principals, to sending mass emails rebuking supervisors to entire school staffs.

Some of these teachers were also accused of poor classroom management skills, being AWOL from school, not following or having lesson plans, ignoring suggestions for improvement, rude and aggressive demeanor, doing nothing to improve high student failure rate, and other behavior-based charges. Now, I may not know any of those teachers personally, but I have taught in a variety of public school settings, inner-urban, suburban, and rural, and know two very important general characteristics about most principals and assistant principals. Just like most federal and state judges are mediocre attorneys who could not fully succeed in the private-sector, most principals and assistant principals are mediocre teachers who couldn’t fully succeed in the classroom.

Most of them knew, however, how to play politics well enough at the district-level to get selected for those lucretive administrative positions (much higher in salary than regular classroom teachers), and when they land the jobs, they take their classroom inadaquacies with them. The real heroes of the American public schools are, on the other hand, those persistent, highly qualified classroom teachers who spend long hours preparing and delivering excellent subject lessons, who adamantly refuse to accept intolerable behaviors from their students, and set obtainable behavioral and academic standards in their classes, which they firmly enforce.

The majority of the secondary school principals, assistant principals, and coaches that I have known, over the years (in Texas and Washington State) who have sidelined their primary administrative and athletic duties with academic instruction, have, in most cases, been extremely popular with most of their students because of their less-than-demanding instructional classroom requirements. One particular baseball coach, who also taught senior American government in a small, but affluent, East Texas high school, was very popular for his tradition of frequently writing across the curriculum in a majority of his classes, in order to appease what he called the beastly behavior of seniors.

On several occasions, when his government classes were supposedly involved with studying the significance of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, some of his athletes (who were also his students) were experiencing bad Mondays because they had lost football games the previous Fridays. So, for his Monday lessons on the American Constitution, this coach wrote across the curriculum and assigned 45 minute essays for all of his students. On the blackboard he wrote, “Tell me, in a 2 page composition, how you would feel if you were an old, worn-out tennis shoe. You may leave and go to the cafeteria when you finish.” This coach told me privily that he always made sure that all of his government students receive a B-or-above grade if they just show-up to class and are basically respectful.

There was one other government teacher at this Texas high school who demanded much more from her students than did this popular coach. While the bachelor’s degree-level coach always had an enrollment of 30-or-more seniors in his four government classes, the other teacher (who also taught history, economics, and geography, and held a master’s degree in political science) had fewer than 25 students in each of her government classes, and a failure rate of 15 percent-per-class. No wonder the majority of the school’s seniors asked to be scheduled for the classes taught by the coach.

Of course, the foregoing example, hardly stereotypical, is of a small, relatively obscure, rural school system that graduates around 250 seniors each year. Yet, most principals and assistant principals, in almost every school district, both independent and dependent, large and small, in every U.S. state are basically the same, in that their general expectations for classroom teachers are focused more toward statistical fulfillment of federal requirements for high-dollar funding than toward the fulfillment of the students’ academic learning requirements. The learning assessment-by-examination trend that has become popular in most states, since 1980, through the application of federal funding guidelines, has catered to a substantial decline in academic standards, especially in elementary schools.

This is because the classroom teachers are routinely required to spend more classroom time preparing their students for standardized assessment examinations than teaching curriculum subject content. So, when you add the amount of class-time spent by educators parenting their students, teaching them basic socialization skills (and for the frequent disciplining of stubbornly obstinate students) to the time required for teaching them to pass assessment tests, not much is left of a 50-minute class period. Such a waste of class-time has been an ongoing dilemma in many public school districts around the nation.

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