A Chilling Story of Coaching Gone Wrong

Have you read this tale of horrors published in Edushyster? Amy Berard’s post “I Am Not Tom Brady“, published on July 22, tells of how her school and school district contracted with a group of consultants to improve student engagement and teacher performance. Make that, mostly “improve” teacher performance.

Picture an experienced teacher being “coached” by 3 experts huddled around a walkie talkie in the back of the classroom. That’s right, this Handwriting the Listis coaching, school improvement style.  Because if your school or district is targeted for improvements, there must be money for consultants – you know, consultants who have never taught, or are trying out their latest graduate school theory or something they heard from the TV experts filling afternoon airwaves.

The group Ms. Berard posts about is from the Center for Transformational Teacher Training and the program – get this – is “No Nonsense Nurturing“.

I don’t know, nor do I care, what the qualifications of the three people “coaching” Ms. Berard might have been, but I know this. Lawrence, like Lowell, has a very high population of students for whom English is not their native language. A teacher  speaking in phrases and incomplete sentences with robotic monotone is poor practice and modeling for English acquisition. And what can “no nonsense nurturing” offer? Nurturing without nonsense? What can that possibly mean?

Because of high poverty levels, which, by the way, will not be fixed by employing teachers who speak like robots, urban school districts often are targets of these types of programs. Peter Greene writes of the dangers of using canned programs such as the  one described in Amy Berard’s post in the Human-Proof Classroom. (You may need to register with Education Week – free – to see the whole text). Is this the education that our urban students need or deserve? Since when is a teacher making an emotional connection with students, especially impoverished and difficult-to-reach kids, an undesired outcome?

There are so many wrongs here. The simple fact that private, money-scavaging “consultants” are empowered to find cash flow in urban districts by offering outrageous programs such as this one, should alarm everyone.

And if you think it can’t happen in your own school or district, think again. Amy Berard’s tale of coaching gone wrong hits pretty close to home – literally. Lawrence, MA, a school district under state receivership, is a quick 15 miles from where I live and where I taught in Lowell, MA. Be vigilant.

What Is It That You Do Again?

Teaching is simultaneously instilling in a child the belief that she can accomplish anything she wants while admonishing her for producing shoddy work.

As I read these words in a blogpost by Dennis Hong, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Here in less than 25 words is what we do every day, every year in our classrooms regardless of grade level.

This week, I found these words to be of a particular truth. There are many stories of perseverance and of failure in every classroom of an urban school such as the one in which I work. One child may flourish despite the traumatic challenges in his life, while another cannot function.

My challenge – the one I take most seriously – is to lift the curtain so that kids can see it doesn’t have to be. That yes indeed, they can graduate high school – some days it is indeed just that basic.

In my white, middle-class upbringing, it was always assumed each of us would go to college and go on to a career. We would make our contributions to society. There was not doubt in anyone’s mind that we were going to do this regardless of any obstacles. I have had third grade students tell me they weren’t sure finishing high school was something they cared about. How sad is it that a child in this day feels that a high school diploma is OPTIONAL? That, to me is unacceptable thinking. So yes indeed, for me teaching is about instilling not only the belief that a student can accomplish anything she wants, but also to show that there are many possibilities.

Shoddy work. I catch myself on this often. Giving kids a bye on quality work is not doing anyone a favor. Education – and homework – is frequently not a priority for some families, and while I understand why, I feel a need to redirect children – without denigrating parents – to make it one. Tricky? Sure.  Worth it? Definitely.

To be a teacher is a series of what seem to be contradictions. In Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov says

Teachers must be both: caring, funny, warm, concerned, and nurturing – and strict, by the book, relentless, and sometimes inflexible. Teachers send the message to students that having high expectations is part of caring for and respecting someone.

Isn’t that the truth?

The Rich Get Richer…..

and the poor keep getting poorer.  Today’s rant comes courtesy of Scholastic, that megaconglomerate of student book publishing.

Having just submitted a book order for my class (a rarity), I am struck by the advantages of working in a more middle-class socio economic school district.  Yes, it is true no one is holding a gun to my head to teach in an urban school district where family finances are not so flush. Scholastic’s website is currently promoting online ordering for parents. Now that is indeed wonderful and saves the teacher (no parent volunteers) the work of balancing out an order before submitting it.  I certainly don’t fault the more affluent the advantages of ordering online, but I do find the promotion from Scholastic — get a free classroom book for every submitted online order — a bit of a slap. The downside for a teacher who works with a disadvantaged population should be clear:  parents without computers/internet connectivity (and there are many here) can’t do this.  No online orders means no free books for a classroom that could dearly use them. Teachers like me, working in an urban environments where much of the classroom literacy library comes from the teacher’s own finances, cannot take advantage of such a perk.  This aggravates me.

As I checked out of my Scholastic order, I noticed another banner promotion from Scholastic: schoolstop.com.  Apparently through this website, teachers can post a list of supplies for a classroom and parents can choose to fulfill the list. And, for every fulfillment on the list, a teacher will receive more Scholastic Book Club Bonus Points (used for more free books and materials).  Sounds great, doesn’t it? In a school district where my 2009-2010 supply budget was cut by 25% this year — and finances don’t look good for next year, getting donations from parents to cover the gap in the supply budget would be great — in fact getting a box of tissues would be super. However, parents who are struggling to keep food on the table and the rent up to date, are probably not in the frame of mind to donate supplies to their child’s classroom. Once again, my counterparts in more affluent communities get advantages that I can only wish for.

Yes, I know that there are other donation sites — and I’m already all over them. I just wish Scholastic with their monopoly and ensuing great big profits, might have had a little less of a middle-class mindset when promoting freebies for teachers — because many teachers will not be able to take advantage of these freebies.  Believe me, I would greatly have appreciated more books for my class library and needed supplies that don’t come out of my personal funds.

Most of the time, I don’t get so irritated at the advantage-disadvantage thing. I know life isn’t fair. I just wish once in a while that there was a bit of equity between the haves and the have nots.