Monday, November 19, 2012

Perspective from the Side of a Discouraging Teacher

Facing a class of at-risk students of color is a daunting task.  Most of them can be found in low-income neighborhoods.  A lot of the students are disengaged from school and don't want to participate in class.  They get up from their seats, talk over you and don't respect any of the classroom guidelines given to them.

I've been on the other side of the classroom for about two months now as an authority figure within the classroom.  An untrained teacher can spell doom for all the students in it.

"You are going to amount to nothing!"

The frustration was evident in her voice.  A brief silence swept across the class.  The pause was so brief you could have easily have gone on without noticing it.  The chatter began again.

Seeing the scenario unfold before me was difficult.  On one side, I felt the frustration of the teacher.  The sounds of thumping, yelling and laughter always filled the room to the brim.  Insults were always constantly thrown across the room, alongside the occasional pencil or notebook.  Racial remarks were made on all sides.  The tapping of pencils echoed throughout the room as every insulting statement was followed up by "YOLO!"

I felt for the teacher.  These students needed a kick in the ass.  But I really felt more compassion for the students.  This teacher was not prepared to handle a class with the needs that this class did.  And for this, all the students had to suffer and be insulted and belittled back.  While the teacher is frustrated and has the options of finding a new career or teaching different students, the rest of these students' lives are steered by the classes they are taking right now, resulting in their success or failure.

Neither the teacher or students are at fault.  The teacher is suited for different students and the students need a different teacher that knows how to handle their needs.  It's like putting a teacher trained in math and expecting them to excel as an English teacher.  They have no idea what they're doing and in turn, the students have no idea how to learn or function in that environment, resulting in a disastrous relationship.

The educational system is what is at fault here and more often than not, teachers really have no idea how to handle a class like that.  And often these partnerships are a result of a white savior mentality where a white teacher of a higher socio-economic background has seen Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers one too many times.  They see themselves as the solution for these students of color's problems but don't really know where to start once they're in the classroom.

Teach for America is hugely responsible for promoting these thoughts to the white savior.  Teachers for TFA are more often than not, not from the same backgrounds as the students they teach, are not passionate about education, are unskilled and untrained, and have no idea what they are getting themselves into.

These students often want to see what they can become and more often than not, their teacher is not a person they can see themselves in.

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