Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why good teachers avoid bad schools

There is a well known online educational newsletter called the Marshall Memo that is a digest of the latest "research" in education. Following is a brief excerpt.

In this Teachers College Record article, Thomas Luschei (Claremont Graduate University), Amita Chudgar (Michigan State University), and Joshua Rew (Florida State University) compare South Korea and Mexico on how teachers are placed in different types of secondary schools. It turns out that in South Korea, teachers with more experience and higher qualifications work more often with less-advantaged students, whereas in Mexico, the opposite is true. “We argue that these differences are due to both explicit policies and a greater commitment to educational equity in South Korea, relative to Mexico,” conclude the authors. They note that the United States is more like Mexico than South Korea on this dimension of educational equity.

This is yet another example of the disconnect between reality and wherever people in educational policy and academia spend their time. Now, I can't speak for Mexico because I've never taught there, but I have a simple explanation of why qualified teachers in the United States tend to avoid schools with "less-advantaged" students. It's not the pay. I'm rather happy with my salary and benefits package here at the DOE, but I would rather work at Walmart than teach in the South Bronx. It's because the schools are hell holes.

As everybody who has any experience with reality knows, most people avoid teaching in troubled urban schools not because of lack of funding, but because of the students. Teachers in crappy schools are daily subjected to psychological abuse and are often in danger of suffering physical abuse. Attempts to teach are constantly frustrated by awful behavior and complete indifference on the part of the students. There are a select few teachers who thrive in this environment and do well, but they are few and far in between. Moreover, because the system is what it is, students who have no interest in school and seem to show up with the express purpose of causing as much mayhem as possible cannot be removed or separated except under the most extreme of circumstances. In one recent case in New York, a 10 year old boy who forced two other boys to perform oral sex on him in the bathroom was given a ten day suspension and then a "safety transfer" to another school. I'm going to let that speak for itself.

You can argue about the causes of such behavior and corresponding lack of a moral compass until you're blue in the face, but whether it's due to lack of a father, cultural influences, lack of job opportunities, or poor prenatal care, kids are who they are and almost all idealistic change-the-world type teachers quickly become jaded and burn out. Teacher characters featured in movies like "Dangerous Minds" are generally Hollywood fictions, or, if based on real people, are highly exceptional examples of tenacity, commitment, and rhinoceros-like skin.

No matter how hard you try to deny it, reality just never goes away.

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