Sunday, April 23, 2006

Teacher Training Lesson

Cross-posted at The Homeschool Cafe.

My husband has attended many teacher training seminars since he started teaching high school. After the main topic has been covered, there's usually a general question-and-answer period. The first year he taught, a teacher at one of these seminars asked for advice about the situation at her school. She was promised a certain amount of money for supplies and replacing textbooks. The money somehow disappeared before it got to her. The administration refused to discipline any student any teacher sent to the office. They refused to do anything about students roaming the halls. When she tried to improve conditions for her students, her requests were refused and she was belittled in staff meetings. Everything the students were supposed to have, from books to buses to school lunches to sports equipment, was far below standard. Everything the faculty was supposed to have was in even worse shape, including the faculty lounge restroom which had broken down a year before she got there. The teacher broke down and began sobbing as she told her story.

The workshop presenter nodded her head grimly and waited for the teacher to regain her composure. "I've seen this myself. I've heard about it many times. Your school is rotten. No matter how hard you try, you will not be allowed to help your students. The only thing you can do is leave."

The teacher began to protest. The presenter held up her hand. "I'm sure you love those kids. You're a good teacher and you want to do the best for them. But you won't be allowed to do anything. Get out now. If you stay you will only burn yourself out trying, and you won't do any good. There's no shame in walking away from something you can't fix. Leave, and go to another school district where you will be able to do some good."

Every other year after that my husband saw this story repeated at other teacher training seminars. It was always a different teacher, a different presenter, and a different school district. But the story was always the same. Recently the school system has put a stop to such scenes by ending multi-school teacher training seminars.

As homeschool parents, we're constantly told, "Why don't you put your energy into fixing the school system for all children?" Sometimes the system can be fixed by a concerned parent. Sometimes it can't. If a rotten school will put up such insurmountable obstacles against reform efforts coming from an "insider" like a teacher, they'll put up ten times the obstacles against reform efforts coming from a perceived "outsider" like a parent. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you will not be allowed to help the children. If that's the case, it's time to leave. You'll only burn yourself out trying, and you won't do any good. There's no shame in walking away from something you can't fix. Leave, and go do your children some good somewhere else.

Let me put it another way: if a woman told you that her spouse was abusing their children and ignoring her pleas for him to stop, what would you tell her? Would you say, "It's your fault. You should try harder to make him stop"? Or would you say, "Get out now!" So why should a parent with children that are being abused by a school system which is ignoring her pleas for it to stop be treated any differently?

And here's a tip for young teachers: when they're giving you a tour of the school and showing off all the fancy toys, check out the faculty lounge restroom. If they're not going to support teachers in that area, they won't support teachers anywhere else.


CapitalistImperialistPig said...

We aren't doing a great job with public education in this country, but most schools do respond to concerned parents. The best ways to influence your school system is to organize - start a parent organization, recruit other concerned parents, and publicize your cause. It is not easy, but it has worked a lot of places.

Lioness said...

There are places where it has worked. There are places where it has not worked. Sometimes you have to move on to Plan B.