Thursday, June 01, 2017

The School Paper and Tough Teachers

The New York Post ran a piece Sunday on a school paper that the principal deemed unfit to print. The article includes the actual paper, which I found well-written, especially for a high school paper. I did not detect any anti-school bias beyond mentioning qualities students found undesirable in teachers. It didn't mention any teachers by name or deride anyone in particular.

I did notice, though, that most students surveyed seemed to prefer a "tough" teacher.  That's a difficult term to define. I demand that my students stay awake, do assigned work, show effort, and pass tests if they want to pass the class. Does that make me a tough teacher? I don't know. The Flushing students say that students themselves are the best judges of who is and is not a good teacher. I'm not 100% sold on that either, but there's some truth to it.

Of course, there is the strong possibility that this administration did not favor "tough" teachers. Maybe there is the preference that everyone pass everything no matter what. I can certainly understand that temptation, given the rich history of closing schools in New York City. And if you choose to be a "tough" teacher in that atmosphere, you do so very much at your own risk. 

As chapter leader, I've seen more than one "tough" teacher in trouble. Tough though you may be, given Chancellor's Regulation A-421, you can't really talk tough to kids. Of course much of this is open to interpretation, but if you say, "Good morning," in such a tone that a student takes offense, if the student complains you'll be sitting in front of the principal explaining why you said it this way instead of some other way. I have not been called in on that particular complaint, yet, but I could certainly imagine it happening.

Verbal abuse is very much in the ear of the beholder, so if you're prone to sarcasm, like me, you have to be very careful of what you say, and to whom you say it. I will only speak sharply to students who I know will give it right back to me, and I probably shouldn't even do that. To me, there's a lot of joy in watching newcomers argue with me. But I'd never think of making a sharp remark to a kid who wouldn't give it back.

When I have an issue, I usually take the kid out into the hall. Even that, though, is not 100% effective. A few months ago, I took a kid into the hall and told him point blank to stop sleeping in my class. I pointed at him, and he asked, "What's that?"

"It's my finger," I informed him.

The kid then went on a rant about how upset he was about my finger. The problem was not his sleeping in class, but rather my finger, which I was misusing. What if he'd gone to the principal and said I pointed at him while telling him to stop sleeping in class? Would there be an OEO report? Would I be up on charges? Would there be a piece in the paper stating that I'd pointed at a kid while telling him not to sleep in class?

You never know. Stranger things have happened. So how can you be a tough teacher when A-421 hangs over your head like the Sword of Damocles? How do you know whether saying hello to students might make them feel belittled or ridiculed? Of course, you hope that administrators will see through such nonsense and nip it in the bud. But then you see cases like Monica Garg at CPE 1 putting people up on charges simply because she evidently found them inconvenient, and you wonder.

City agencies seem to regard principals as prophets, perpetually walking down Mt. Sinai holding the Ten Commandments. Any goshdarn accusation they make, no matter how trivial or preposterous, is the living gospel in their eyes.  Fortunately, after a loud and sustained public outcry, Garg was stopped in her tracks at CPE 1.

But how many teachers are sitting around in rubber rooms for equally frivolous reasons? How many are there for being "tough" when the principal's directive was pass everyone no matter what?
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