Thursday, March 3, 2011

Power Struggle


There are some things on this blog I have to really filter what I say. Oh, I'm an open book when it comes to what I really think about education, politics, and all things related to my work; but there are some things that I keep tight-lipped about.

One of the things that is tricky to address publicly without crossing a line are topics in Special Education. I can never mention something I've actually seen written in an IEP. I cannot talk directly about specific issues that could be traced back to specific kids. I can't talk about any legal issues, and in special education, any sizable public school district has legal issues in special education. It is a highly litigated field.

So, I am going to address some Special Education issues today, but in the interest of journalistic integrity; I am merging details, changing details, and making my real life experience murky and unrecognizable. That being said I will speak only based on things I have observed directly.

I also always refrain from talking about family secrets. By family secrets I mean those issues within the district that we all know are going on, but we are not allowed to discuss publicly. So, today I will talk about a problem many teachers in my district face with curriculums and accountability. Again, I am merging, changing, and obscuring.

My moral education is strongly based in Hollywood, so today please turn with me to the book of Spiderman. Peter Parker got it right, but incomplete when he learned that "with great power comes great responsibility." With great power does come great responsibility, but the reverse should also be true: with great responsibility should come great (or at least sufficient) power.

I think that a lot of my frustration with my field comes from the power struggle. No, I'm not talking about when you get annoyed with Johnny-Talksbackalot. No, I'm not talking about when you have an administrator who feels the need to correct the way you hand someone a stack of papers. I am talking about the BIG POWER STRUGGLE. The push for total, no-excuses, accountability with the simultaneous push for controlled classrooms and teaching practices. I am going to share two examples of this.

1.) In my district, we are required to use a Math curriculum that doesn't work, but we are totally responsible for the performance of our students in Math.

I saw this video on Joan Jacob's blog. It depicts a girl using strategies found in the required Math curriculum. I can hardly even do a lot of these strategies.

What do we do? A lot of us use the curriculum to subsidize and teach strategies that work, but in schools where it is a more micromanaged environment, their test scores suffer and teachers are directly accountable. We have the great responsibility to improve Math scores, but we don't have the power to do what works.

2.) Sometimes inclusion creates an unsafe and poor learning environment, but schools lack the power to rectify these situations.

Here's where I have to be careful what I say, but just know that I am changing details.

There is a student in another class at my school who has grown very violent. She punched the glasses off the face of the music teacher Monday. She punched the assistant principal in the nose. She tried to stab her teacher with a plastic knife from the cafeteria and has hit her third grade teacher and every other teacher she has had. I don't know how many students She has punched, kicked or hit. She does have a disability and she does these things with a smile on her face.

Today she punched my little nonreader in his face giving him a black eye. She did this with no warning and for no reason. She just walked across the playground and punched him in the face.

All of her teachers cry all the time. I think everyone in our school knows that this child belongs in a self-contained environment, but the parents believe general ed is the least restrictive environment. The laws make it so hard for us to force the issue. You really can't imagine how hard. We have great responsibility to provide a safe, positive learning environment, but we don't have power to put this child in a more appropriate setting.


Anonymous said...

Imagine what this looks like in high school....

Let's just say one high school diploma isn't necessary equal to the other.

That One English Teacher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
luckeyfrog said...

The lack of control is exactly what concerns me about "merit pay."

It will be very frustrating if I keep being told how I have to teach, but then being punished because my students don't learn that way.

Lsquared said...

Wow--those are some of the biggest problems around: teacher responsibility without having a choice of the curriculum materials, and students in inappropriate placements. Good luck--I hope you get a chance to have more say about what goes on in your classroom.