Regarding Alan Prendergast's "Zero for Conduct," in the April 23 issue:
It was good to see Mr. C'de Baca get some ink. I'm a former Denver Public Schools teacher (I left voluntarily, by the way), and I have seen what he's talking about firsthand. He does, however, ascribe motives and actions to DPS administration types that they are neither guilty of nor (sadly) capable of. The only conspiracy any of them are truly guilty of is the usual ass-covering to keep their jobs. Hey, we all do it to some extent.
On the other hand, DPS is absolutely guilty of being craven before the idiotic machinations of the school board. The fact that We the People elected them does not mean that they shouldn't be told to shut up and listen from time to time. I suppose it is true of any organization that owes its very life to a handful of fear-mongering demagogues that political considerations will always sully administrative decisions, but teachers and administrators are professionals. We do our jobs because we like to. We should, from time to time, rear up on our hind legs and tell it like it is. To wit: Parents--your children will not learn unless 1) they come to school fed and rested; 2) they close their mouths and get their asses in a chair; and 3) you do what you know you must--back up the teachers! They are generally right, and when they are wrong, you can tell them so--if you can manage to do it without resorting to threats, egregious obscenities or political nonsense.
via the Internet
"The Blame Game" was the right cover title for Alan Prendergast's story, because there is enough blame to go all around:
Blame those students who are quick to see that they can misbehave and be absent with impunity.
Blame those teachers who need help to make lessons interesting and to maintain discipline.
Blame those parents who pressure teachers to give high grades for poor performance.
Blame those principals who harass teachers instead of supporting them.
Blame those administrators who pressure principals to reduce the dropout rate.
Blame those legislators who for the last nine years have funded Colorado schools below the rate of inflation, leaving our schools to rank 48th out of 50 in school spending.
Blame those members of the Denver Board of Education and the rest of us who support the Broncos better than we support our own children.
The problem starts in elementary school with large classes and students who can't keep up but are passed from grade to grade anyway. Don't be misled by pupil-teacher ratios that are always lower than actual class sizes, because the ratios include auxiliary teachers.
How interesting that in the same issue, you profile two distinct DPS teachers with very different experiences--one a "hard-nosed," successful and caring physical education teacher (in Robin Chotzinoff's "To Her, With Love") and the other a frustrated academic classroom teacher (in Alan Prendergast's "Zero for Conduct").
I greatly admire Miss Holder's ability to make rules and standards and stick with them. How does she do it? Because she is backed by her administrators. Because the parents, if they do try to get her to back down, get nowhere. And Mr. C'de Baca? I can relate to his frustrations. I can relate to each of his experiences and to those of the other teachers mentioned in that article. I am a had-to-retire teacher in a suburban district. The frustration was too much for me. It became apparent to me several years before I had to retire that the education system is really all about numbers and statistics, not about education. Marginal or total goof-off students were to leave with a diploma. Adjust the grading system. Allow points for this or that, all meaningless. Never look at the student, only at the teacher to find the reason a student did not do well. I witnessed formerly excellent teacher after teacher bow to the political pressure, lower standards, play games and throw out the window academic excellence as a criteria for grades.
True, there are some students who still excel. But all too many are passed along because of the numbers game. It is very difficult to explain to an excellent student why a do-nothing student still passes. Whatever standard is set, whatever rule is made--they are all Play-Doh in the end. Standards and rules are squeezed and reshaped to fit the "individual case" so that at the end of the year, very, very few are disappointed by not receiving a diploma. For those teachers who are unable due to conscience to play the numbers game and make the statistics look good, the pressure is enormous--in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, as mentioned in the C'de Baca article.