Friday, October 14, 2011

Why I Agree That Our School System Results in Teachers Hurting Children

Most high school students find school boring and irrelevant
In her popular post, What Parents Really Want to Tell Teachers: What You Do Hurts Our Children, parenting expert Laurie A. Couture compiled a list of concerns for teachers to consider in the context of their own education. I shared her post here on The Innovative Educator blog and while it was met with some support, in many cases it was met with hostile criticism from teachers who felt attacked.

Couture’s post was in response to Ron Clark’s article What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents. While she was criticized for using generalities, her post was directed toward those teachers who believe parents need to head Clark's advice. There were teachers who were upset that I would publish a piece like this on my blog. Unfortunately, some followers even unsubscribed. Despite this, I shared Laurie’s concerns for two reasons.
  1. Laurie is connected with many parents whose children have been hurt by what teachers are compelled to do in our educational system. She does a good job representing why parents have issues with teachers such as these. Her son, who was one such child, does a good job as well. You can read his response to Ron Clark here.
  2. I agree with Laurie’s concerns, her advice, as well as the observation she shares with John Taylor Gatto: Most teachers are working in a system that is forcing them to hurt children. I have worked in the public school system for many years and have found that every school has teachers and/or administrators that could benefit from her advice because much of what they are being told to do in the name of kids is detrimental.

I suggest we learn from Laurie’s advice and shift focus to look at the type of teacher the system is breeding. While I understand many teachers who read this blog are not the ones that engage in these actions,we know these are the actions the system we are a part of breeds and rewards. If we really want to help children, we must help ensure they are no longer treated this way. Laurie's concerns are worth considering in making a change where we teach. 

To follow, in two parts, I am sharing my thoughts about why I agree with these concerns and am also providing a call to action. Below is the response to her first five points. In part two I will share my reaction to her last five points.

1. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • My thoughts: We are so afraid that teachers are going to suddenly become child molesters if they have true connected relationships with students, that we demand they be treated as subjects rather than people. Contact outside of school is frown upon in most places including contact using digital media. If we are so afraid that a teacher who develops relationships with their studentst will engage in inappropriate conduct, we must deal with that teacher, not make blanket policies that do not serve children best.
  • Call to action: Connect with your students and develop relationships inside and outside of school. Publicize the wonderful connections you make with kids by writing about it, celebrating it and ask your kids to do the same. Showcase how doing so can enrich each of your lives.
2. Respect the student’s basic human body functions
  • My thoughts: If we are not respecting children and fostering their independence then we are not allowing children to develop the vital trust of and connection with self needed to be healthy and happy.
    • Food: When I started teaching I found it odd that eating and drinking was so regulated. This didn’t work for me. I like to have a beverage with me at all times and I like to have snacks around when I am hungry. In many schools lunch times are ridiculous with some kids having lunch at 10 a.m. and others at 2. I fought to deregulate the food rules in my school. Kids and adults could eat and drink as they pleased. They cleaned up after themselves and if something was inadvertenly left behind, students helped me clean up at the end of the period.
    • Drinks: I will never forget being in first grade and feeling like I was literally dying of thirst. The teacher didn’t want me to leave because it would disrupt her lesson. I begged a few more times and was told no. So, I told her I had to go to the bathroom really bad and might have an accident. She let me go. I ran to the water fountain and started to drink when a classmate came running after me telling me to get back to class. The teacher sent him out to check that I wasn’t lying about the bathroom. When I got home that night I had 104 fever. I had been sick in class but the teacher, so focused on her lesson, hadn’t bothered seeing me as more than a mere distraction. In most schools I do not witness teachers trusting children to eat and drink when they please.
    • Bathroom: One of my favorite educators recently told me the story of his son peeing in his pants because he didn’t want to make the teacher mad by asking to go to the bathroom. I too have witnessed teachers getting mad at students for asking to leave. On a personal note I have a close family member who was diagnosed with Crohns disease at the end of high school. She did not feel comfortable moving on to college for fear that her teachers would not allow her to leave if she needed to use the restroom or understand if she had to arrive late due to stomach problems.
  • Call to action: Show your children respect by allowing them to make decisions about eating, drinking, and using the restroom. This may require fighting a bureaucratic system. Do it. Get your kids involved. This also might necessitate deeper discussions about food, nutrition, and health. Bonus!
3. Think carefully before assigning labels
  • My thoughts: I have written extensively on the “disease” that hits most close to home for me personally and in public schools, ADD / ADHD. I have connected with numerous medical professionals, educators, and parents who have learned that discovering and addressing the child’s true needs most always alleviates the need to drug children. I have been labeled as ADD/ADHD. So has Aaron Iba. Thank goodness neither of us succumbed to being drugged into compliance. Many labels such as these would be unnecessary if we saw everyone as having optimum environments for learning and enabled them to function in these environments.
  • Call to action: Every single student has special needs and I don’t mean that in the cheesy, feel good way some people talk about kids with labels. Connect with children and their parents to find out what their special needs are. Work hard to honor and respect the special needs of all your children. Consider fixing your children's learning environment before fixing and/or drugging children. Allow children to have multiple options and alternatives and empower them with the independence to figure out how to learn in the best way possible.
4. Understand, respect, and value the importance of play
  • My thoughts: Teachers know that children need play yet they often blindly follow authority when they are required to rob children of this important need. This is done through reducing the amount of time children have for recess, stealing their time after school with homework, eliminating or greatly reducing play from the days of children in early elementary and putting test prep / academics in its place. Our society knows this is a big contributing factor to the childhood obesity problem and is also linked to depression yet most teachers comply to the demands of a test prep obsessed system.
  • Call to action: Close your door. Put up a curtain in your window if necessary. Give your children free time EVERY day. Watch them. See what they love. See who they are when you aren’t telling them what to do. Know that you are not slacking, but instead giving your students something very valuable to their development.
5. Consider the research when it comes to homework that robs children of time with family, friends, play, exercise and exploration of passions
  • My thoughts: The amount of homework has increased dramatically in recent years. Children are left with less time to explore their own passions because they are forced to do work they often do not care about. The time when there is daylight after school that was once used for play is often taken up with homework today. We need to release children’s hold from the curriculum when they leave school and provide them with the necessary time they need to be with friends and family, explore passions, and play.
  • Call to action: Homework can be a suggestion rather than forced. Provide time during the day for students to do the work you would normally assign as homework. Those who have done it in advance, have free time. Those who couldn’t do it, get your support. Those who have not done it have time to do it.
Public school teachers see much of this occurring in our schools and we know it is not best for children. We must stop following orders and start taking actions. As a teacher what actions will you take? As a parent what actions will you demand of your child’s school?

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