This is a guest post by Gregory Wickham, a student at Stuyvesant High School. Gregory is a 2013 2nd place winner of the Michael Perelstein Memorial Scholarship Discover Your Passion Competition, and a quarter-finalist in the 2014 Young Rewired State Festival of Code. You can find his website at gregorywickham.com.
A certain woman wrote an article detailing some of her experiences as a French teacher at three public high schools in New York City. Her thesis statement is: “Disruptive students must be removed from the classroom, not to punish them but to protect the majority of students who want to learn.”
Superficially, her stance might seem reasonable but, when you read closer, a multitude of problems and contradictions pile up.
I understand that she is angry and anger clouds people’s judgment, but doesn’t she see that her disillusionment with the education system is just like her students’ disillusionment and anger at the exact same system? The difference is that when she was having a hard time, the UFT (United Federation of Teachers’ labor union) put her in therapy and tried to move her to a school that was a better fit, but she says that when students feel the same way she does, they should simply be abandoned.
A little empathy, please!
Her entire article is littered with strategic omissions of facts and context in order to portray herself in a better light and portray students as essentially uncivilized. Her statements, posed as objective observations, are extremely demeaning, patronizing, and offensive.
Her description of her years at Brooklyn Tech exemplifies her lopsided and misleading perspective. She says (of the students at Brooklyn Tech), “[w]hat the youngsters lacked in academic rigor, they made up for in verve,” showing that she isn’t particularly observant or understanding of students. If Brooklyn Tech is anything like my school, Stuyvesant, I know from experience that there is no lack of academic rigor. It may not be immediately evident in their language class, but if she had actually tried to get to know a single student, or even just paid slightly closer attention to anything they said, it would have become fairly evident that academic rigor abounds. If this is how she perceived Brooklyn Tech, it just shows her general lack of understanding of students and teaching.
At one point, after mentioning that a “particularly disruptive and dangerous boy” was killed outside a school, she writes “What a tragic waste of human potential,” as if she cares about what happens to the students. Yet, at the same time, she is arguing to remove kids like him who are problematic (or she just doesn’t like) from school entirely, writing that one school that she heard of attained “good results” because the principal “managed not only to suspend the most disruptive students for long periods, he also made sure they were not admitted during that time to any other school in the district.”
As a society, we have decided that no child should be left behind, and I think that if she doesn’t like that, she should go try to find a school that will abandon students as she sees fit.
She clearly has no compassion for students she doesn’t like, and explicitly states it, writing that she doesn’t “feel pity for these poor children,” and yet when she mentions a girl who became pregnant, she writes “it was impossible not to feel terrible for her.” These obvious contradictions, faked feelings, and patronizing remarks show us who she is: someone who couldn’t handle the task she was faced with. And after she suffered through everything she did, she has chosen to become angry and cast blame all around, instead of working through it and finding a job she can do.
Despite her claim that most teachers in NYC are “dedicated, talented professionals,” she eventually does acknowledge that she isn’t a very good teacher, writing, “I didn’t possess whatever magic some teachers have that explains their success.” She then goes on to describe other teachers at these same schools who could keep students under control and have them cooperate. Nevertheless, she still blames the students, the administration, and the law — never the teachers– for every problem, and seems to count herself among the ranks of good teachers. It seems that, to her, everyone is to blame except herself.
Throughout her article she repeatedly complains about anti-discrimination laws getting in her way. Now, what I find fascinating is that at no point does she consider that anything she was doing or advocating might have been wrong. She seems to think that these laws were passed solely to make her job more difficult. She doesn’t stop to consider the implication of abandoning children and preventing them from receiving an education altogether.
As she describes some of the violence that occurs in schools, she characterizes the students both as victims of a horrible system (which she had nothing to do with) and as violent sociopaths. Does she think that kids like hurting each other? People do things because they think they will gain something from it, and we have to change social systems so that it no longer makes sense for kids to be violent, not simply place all of the violent kids outside of school altogether with no supervision or guidance or opportunity for redemption. Turning away those who are most in need doesn’t seem particularly ethical to me.
Overall, she evidently isn’t a very good teacher, or maybe she just wasn’t up to that particular task, as some of her coworkers were. I understand why she is saying what she is saying, but I think she needs to step back, calm down, and think it out again.