Poor kids

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I well remember meeting my friend, Bill Atkinson, for the first time. Seems like just the other day. We were both new teachers in a public school district. I was a brand new teacher, but he was a bit more experienced, having taken the job to get back to his hometown to help his ailing mother. We both had high hopes for the new school year. Young minds to enlighten, young lives to encourage and shape. Facts to teach.

My classes were small, as I had some of the poorest performing students. I had about 15 students in a class. Bill had about 30. It only took a few days of the year to enlighten both of us. In fact, I’d say it only took a few hours.

I’d like to get to the bottom of this right away. At the school, there would be precious little enlightening of students or shaping of young lives, or even facts taught. The students, junior high kids, were out of control from the get go. Fights were common. Many of the kids had been held back so many times due to failure they were already 18 years old. Eighth graders, mind you, who were 18 years old.

The school had a breakfast program in the morning. The kids filed into the auditorium to wait to be dismissed into the cafeteria. They sat with an open seat between each student. Plus, each student had an open seat in front and in back. This was required to minimize fighting. Metal utensils were not used for either breakfast or lunch, so that when the inevitable fight did break out, there was less chance for serious injury.

Quite a few of my students had children of their own. One girl had two children already. That’s right. Eighth graders, mind you, already parents.

How was I expected to teach the basic skills of English to kids who lived in such chaos? I was hopeful; I did my best. I failed. But did I fail, or did the students fail, or did the parents fail, or did the school fail?

I remember the faculty-student basketball game. Here we were, young to middle-aged male teachers in our shorts and t-shirts, up against athletic youngsters entering their physical prime. Our opponents, made of up eighth graders, had no mercy on us. It was my first experience seeing an eighth grader dunk, two handed, and it happened more than once, much to the delight of the student body in attendance.

Sometimes, a student’s lack of common knowledge would lead to humorous, but pitiful situations. I remember one day having my students fill out a form. In the space for the student’s height, the form read, “_______ feet, ________ inches.” One girl piped up, confused, “Why they wanna know how big my feet is?” How to best correct her logic?

One of my students, a boy, wore house slippers. He also wore a bra under his t-shirt, everyday. I never asked him why. I do remember asking him a question related to the subject at hand once, to which he angrily replied, “Boy, I’m gonna knock you upside the head!!” Should I correct his grammar?

Very few of my eighth graders, maybe one or two, could tell time. I tried to explain the big hand and little hand, but they had no patience for it.

I dreaded lunch duty and bus duty the most. My nose was bloodied breaking up one fight during lunch duty. How the onlookers did howl. Eager minds, enjoying the last vestiges of their taxpayer-funded lunches, waiting and hoping for the teacher to go down. I felt like the dog Buck in Call of the Wild, when he battles it out with Spitz and the other dogs circled around, waiting for the loser to go down. Of course, none of those students would ever enjoy a Jack London novel. How could they?

It was expected for male teachers to jump in and break up fights, plain and simple. It’s hard to singlehandedly break up a fight between two 18 year-olds. Grab one guy and the other one is free to pummel. Get in between them and get pummeled by both of them. I remember being on bus duty in the afternoon and being so sick of it all that I went and hid inside my classroom. The next morning, the principal called me in and asked, “Why weren’t you on bus duty yesterday afternoon?” I lied and said that I had grown sick and had made an emergency trip to the bathroom. More than once I considered pulling the fire alarm, just to get the school evacuated so I wouldn’t have class. I mean, I really considered it.

One particularly telling incident occurred when a community member tried to put together a father-son breakfast. With over a hundred boys in attendance, there might have been ten dads who showed. There were no follow up breakfasts.

Twice, we had teachers attacked at the school during the two years I was there. Both were women. Actually, one was attacked and knocked down by a group of students. The other teacher locked herself in her classroom just in time to escape one of her student’s wrath. The principal came to her rescue. He found the boy, almost fully grown, clawing and beating at her door, trying to get in and attack her. I doubt her lesson plans for the day included “self defense for when Johnny comes looking for me.”

The students were polite verbally, usually. I was called “sir” quite often. “Did you do your homework?” “No, sir, Mr. Bach.” “Did you see who stole my lunch from my desk drawer?” No, sir, Mr. Bach.”

The principal even led the student body in the Lord’s Prayer before assemblies. The Lord’s Prayer. Public school. Indeed. Dry crumbs on society’s floor, dropped from an earlier feasting time of cultural décor. “Yes, sir, Mr. Bach! Thank you, Lord! Now I’m gonna go knock somebody out!”

Teachers were allowed to spank the kids. If a youngster acted out sufficiently, that student would get a choice: three swats with a board, or detention. The kids almost always chose the swats because they were quicker than staying after school. I only did it one time. The boy really crossed the line, I don’t remember how, so I gave him his options. He chose to be spanked, and I followed protocol. I went next door to get the teacher to witness. I took him into the hall and had him lean against the wall. I grabbed the board…

I didn’t know how hard to hit him, so I kind of went easy on the first swat. He looked at me as if to query, “Is that all you got?” I answered said query with two swats more in line with what he was accustomed. I remember feeling bad about it afterwards, not because I don’t believe in corporal punishment; I do. However, I am a firm believer that corporal punishment, if correctly applied, leads to acceptable behavior patterns well before eighth grade. Once, I had a student, a known gang member, stare me down, point his finger at me and pull an imaginary trigger. I chose not to spank him.

I hope I did well by those children. I know I tried. I gave it my all, or close to it. I told them they weren’t worthless, which was their default self-assessment, that they were better than they acted. I spoke of truth to them. I taught them English. A little, anyway. The difference between transitive and intransitive verbs probably got lost in the cacophony.

I believe my friend, Bill, paddled a few kids. He was more intimidated by the students than I was. He told me as much. He was a bit older, and he was of somewhat smaller frame. It didn’t help that one of his students was actually awaiting trial for taking part in a murder. I don’t believe he spanked that child.

He was understandably disappointed in what the school had become since he had attended it years before. The building was the same building, yes, but oh how different the school was. He didn’t finish out the year, and I was sorry for it. We both had great intentions. We did. We both dressed for success, including wearing ties. We both dutifully filled out our weekly lesson plans and tried to use our professional preparation as educators to enhance student learning and meet goals and objectives and utilize the resources available to us… and we both dreaded each and every day at that place. Each and every hour.

Those of you familiar with public education might recall Goals 2000. Goals 2000 was a document created and made popular in the 1990’s. It stated, among other things, that by the year 2000 the following would occur…

 

  • All children in America will start school ready to learn.
  • United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.
  • Every school in the United States will be free of drugs, violence, and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.
  • All students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, the arts, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our nation’s modern economy.

 

Wonderful! Yay, America! Go, public education! Let’s just come up with some worthy goals, and good things will happen!! Reading over the goals, one quickly realizes that not one goal was met. Not one. They are, in fact, pitiful. Laughable. The kids I had back then, the kids my friend had back then, they are now in their late 30’s. The babies those students had back then are now in their early 20’s, some of them undoubtedly with children of their own tearing up the current public school.

Our country is broken. Our society is broken. Does anyone think that rehashing the ideas of Goals 2000 in No Child Left Behind or Common Core will fix anything? Does hopeful planning and reorganizing and reform and continuous school improvement and good intentions do jack squat? Is there a magic fairy that can sprinkle the dust of knowledge over our schools and fix things? Can we shake parents out of complacency? Or, do we shake the parents before them? How far back should the shaking go?

The place of which I speak is a small town in Mississippi. I was there 20 years ago. But I have also taught in Iowa, where I was called a maternal procreator, in so many words, and told to go procreate with myself by one of the stellar students there. Top-notch kid. I’ve since read about his run-ins with law enforcement, now that he has graduated. His diploma is meaningless.

I currently teach in Nebraska. I haven’t run up against the problems I did in Mississippi, but I can’t say as the kids are exactly turning out to be rocket scientists or brain surgeons. There are a few, sure. There always will be. In spite of the public schools. But there could be more. Just today, we had a student in high school write a wonderful letter to the staff at the school stating just where we all could go. It was not a helpful suggestion. What’s wrong with kids these days?

Here, briefly, are a few other examples from public schools, one for each of the past three months, since this school year began…

 

November, West Philadelphia: “It’s mayhem. Students are in the halls, they’re smoking in the bathroom; cigarettes, marijuana,” said a worker at the school, who asked not to be identified. “We can’t contain them and it’s really hazardous for us working and these kids are not being educated at all… We’re seeing an increase in incidents at this school this year. The good news is we have actually more police staff at this school this year than last year.”

 

October, Chicago: Police arrested 29 students following a fight at the Percy L. Julian High School in Chicago Tuesday. Police were called to the Washington Heights school shortly after 10 a.m. for what they termed a “major incident.” Several students were seen in handcuffs being led into police vehicles.

 

September, North Carolina: A fight at a Caswell County school sent four teachers to an area hospital. 
The incident happened at Bartlett Yancey High School around 8 a.m. Thursday. 
The school’s assistant superintendent said it happened in the courtyard. He says (sic) a school resource officer and the four teachers jumped in to break up the fight between four students. The school later called the sheriff’s department for backup. “Certainly we regret that any incident occurred but everyone is safe, the grounds are secure and they should feel comfortable that everything has been done and resolved and that learning is taking place here.”

 

How many teachers, like my friend, Bill, quit early? They desire to do well; they desire to teach. They just can’t put up with it. How many others want to quit early? Honestly, in the privacy of their own homes, if no one was listening, how many would admit they would never go back?

This is not an indictment of public schools. Far too much is asked of them, and unfortunately they put up with it. We don’t want to get up and feed our own children so they can pay attention in class? You do it, public schools. We don’t want to discipline our kids or instill a love for learning? You do it. This is not to blame anybody except us collectively. Look around. Go to your local school and see for yourself the future of our culture. I don’t mean for an afternoon or for some parent-teacher conference staged like a dog and pony show. I mean go in, and stay in, for a few weeks at least. Listen to the kids talk. Visit multiple schools. Then tell me that you have high hopes for America.

 

Follow John Bach at https://www.facebook.com/john.bach.7777

Twitter: @bachstir

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45 Responses to Poor kids

  1. L`Taia says:

    you racist

    Like

  2. Shanequa says:

    You sound like a ignorant cracker! Bet yoh hate on your black students!

    You the problem!

    Like

    • Gail Miller says:

      I bet he did not. It sounds to me like he really cared, It was the black students that hated on EVERYTHING.. Why go to school if you don’t want the education, stay home and let other students who want to learn do so.

      Like

      • T-D . Gonzalez says:

        Gail, every one of your responses here has contained grammatical and/or spelling errors, and yet you went out of your way to attack others on a personal level instead of contributing to the discussion at hand.

        The blogger stated that he was writing about “poor kids”, and you referred to those same children as “black kids who hated on everything.” You need to take a close look at YOURSELF.

        If all you can do is make poorly written personal attacks on others for their own writing skills, and criticize underprivileged children for their ignorance and their race, you aren’t doing anything to raise the level of discourse here.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Gail Miller says:

        Please inform me of every grammatical error. LOL. And, was talking about the spelling. Not the proper placement of every period or comma. If you have something to input to the story that would be wonderful. Otherwise zip it :p . And my comment about “black kids hating on everything” was a direct response to what the guy said. As for my spelling, do tell. Because I found nothing wrong with my spelling. I think you are attacking the wrong person, the people I responded to were rude, race bating and really could not spell. Sorry you had a direct problem with me for some strange reason. Why not go bother some of these other people that are just being jackasses. Just an idea.

        Like

    • Does she “hate on ..” before or after they threaten her life? You really are clueless Shanequa: being black does not automatically confer justification to commit violence at school.

      BTW, you might want to review your 4th grade grammar and spelling lessons. You illustrate the point perfectly.

      Like

  3. T-D. Gonzalez says:

    This blog post has evoked a variety of feelings in me. Sadness is certainly one of them. You were clearly writing about poor African American students, and I am assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that you are a caucasian male. I think what is happening in the public schools across the United States, especially those in underserved communities, is a tragedy. I believe that it has much more to do with socio-economic conditions than with race, although race is certainly a factor. I have had many public school teachers, administrators, and even school district professionals in my family and circle of friends; and, sadly, your jaded perspective is not limited to white teachers. These kids need love, care, and discipline. They aren’t receiving those things at home, and they will never receive them in the public schools from fearful teachers and administrators who simply view them as sub-human creatures. If you treat them like animals, they will most certainly behave that way. The public school system in impoverished communities has essentially become a means of early conditioning, tracking, and funneling into the criminal justice system.

    Like

    • Sonya says:

      T-D, You say these students need love, care, and discipline. You’re right, they do. You also said they will never receive them in the public schools. You’re right again. What is incorrect, is your premise. It’s not simply because the teachers and administrators are fearful, or that, as you wrongly assume, they view them as sub-human, it is because those are things these students should be receiving, MUST be receiving, at home. The school system was not created to be the parents. That’s what these children need, parents. I’m very sorry their parents have not done their jobs, and it sounds like the author is sad, and frustrated, also. That does not excuse their behavior though, they are still responsible for their actions, it is just much more difficult for them, and I do feel very sorry for them. Blaming the school is not the answer though. They can never take the place of a parent.

      Like

      • T-D. Gonzalez says:

        Sonya, you took what I wrote out of context to suit your own use. You missed my point, and failed to truly understand my premise, so I feel compelled to elaborate. It goes without saying that love, care, and discipline should be received in the home from parents; but, when they are not, we as a society have a moral obligation to step in BEFORE the criminal justice system does. It saddens me that you don’t see this.

        What I actually wrote was that, “These kids need love, care, and discipline. They aren’t receiving those things at home, and they will never receive them in the public schools from fearful teachers and administrators who simply view them as sub-human creatures.” As I think I mentioned already, I am from a family of public school teachers and administrators. My two closest girlfriends are administrators in our local public school system, and both started their careers as public high school teachers. My aunts were teachers and principals, one of my aunts was a Special Education Teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 50 years before she retired (she passed away last summer at the age of 91). My own mother became a teacher as a FOURTH career (after nurse, realtor, and small business owner), in her late 60’s. I assume NOTHING, I KNOW that MANY (NOT ALL) of the public school teachers and administrators see underprivileged kids in the inner cities and the rural communities as animalistic, intellectually inferior, and practically incorrigible.

        As I stated previously, there are some racial elements to this; but many of the attitudes of the teachers are based on socio-economic factors. Middle-class Black teachers are at least as disdainful, and often even more hostile, toward underprivileged Black students as non-Black teachers. The same is true of the attitudes of middle-class Latino teachers toward impoverished Latino students and recent immigrants…and for the very same reason. Other racial groups, and especially white people, hold up the worst behavior as an example to the larger society as “proof of the inferiority” of the racial group to which the perpetrator belongs.

        I also never “blamed the schools”, nor did I suggest that the schools are equipped to “take the place of a parent”. However, what I do KNOW is that some teachers have a TRUE VOCATION; and those teachers CHANGE THE FUTURE OUTCOMES OF THEIR STUDENTS every single day. While a lack of parenting may be more apparent (and POSSIBLY more prevalent) among the most impoverished segments of our population, the majority of which necessarily tends to be people of color (who have historically occupied the lowest rungs of this post-colonial and nearly-post-industrial society), the poor are not the ONLY segment of our society who lack parenting skills or who fail to parent their children. Throughout the history of teaching, there have been MANY teachers, administrators, counselors, and coaches who have changed their students’ lives by loving them, caring about them, providing discipline and structure in their lives, and (most importantly) by holding them to higher expectations of reaching their potential.

        Yes, it is MUCH EASIER to teach middle-class kids from two-parent homes. Yes, it is MUCH EASIER to teach kids who arrive to school with a hot breakfast in their stomachs. Yes, it is (SOMETIMES) MUCH EASIER to teach the children of the educated classes because the parents are often more engaged. However, the poor, hungry kids whose parents are just as ignorant as they are also need to be educated. They need education most of all because it is absolutely essential if they are to ever break the cycle of poverty and ignorance that they are caught in. The bottom line is that these are CHILREN we are speaking of. They must be TAUGHT personal responsibility and accountability just as EVERYONE must be TAUGHT these things. If their parents failed to do it, then the responsibility falls to their TEACHERS, neighbors, religious people, and the community/society at large. That is what it means to be part of a COMMUNITY of HUMAN BEINGS. We don’t just mentor our own kids, we teach and mentor other kids for the benefit of our society and the world we live in.

        Like

      • T-D. Gonzalez says:

        P.S. Where I used CAPS, it was for EMPHASIS and NOT yelling.

        Like

    • TD, as I am sure you are well-aware, teachers frequently have at least 25 students per class and teach what, 5 – 6 classes a day? Is it reasonable, or misguided, to believe teachers can be substitute parents for that many children?

      I find Bach’s arguments compelling. Expecting teachers to “solve” the problem of children raised (a figure of speech) in poverty by parents who were themselves uneducated is beyond delusional.

      Do we want to change the status quo? ( In case you are wondering, L’Taia and Shanequa, that is Latin) If so, the 1% and corporations must “surge” their tax payments and flood our schools with all of the resources necessary to do the job (facilities, teachers, materials, counselors and…yes…security personnel)

      Like

  4. Paul Mariani says:

    Parents who don’t care have kids that don’t care. If you don’t want the responsibility of having kids, then don’t. Kids learn by observing, and BET is not a good babysitter. Hip-Hop culture is glorifying monstrous behavior, add this to the It’s All About Me Generation…you get crap all day long.

    Like

  5. sixguns says:

    Only uneducated people could think this is a story about race!

    Like

  6. Gail Miller says:

    Sir, I do not think you are racist. I think you made so many good points. And those on here that said you are racist could barely spell the word. I am sorry it has been so hard, I do wish more kids would work harder to make something of themselves. It is a sad state we are in

    Like

  7. scott says:

    Dude you are a liar. There is zero chance you were teaching multiple 18 year olds in the 8th grade. When you lie at least go believable and say a couple of 16 year olds. This is why people don’t take conservatives seriously, you morons are incapable of talking about a pressing issue without injecting heaps of hyperbole into the discussion.

    Like

  8. scott says:

    Also you are a jaded loser unable to reach a bright student in these situations. I have worked as a teacher in low income areas and while it was always more difficult than working in affluent areas I always had bright students willing to learn. You sound jaded and I personally hope you are an ex educator because we could use less people like yourself going through the motions and more people with a passion for educating youth.

    Like

  9. scott says:

    Ad hominem is beneath most serious discussions but when I read an entry so devoid of factual statements I just assume we are not having a serious discussion. We do have a problem with our education system that is largely rooted in awful parenting, but I flat out do not believe you had multiple 18 year olds in the 8th grade.

    We all can get jaded but your entire entry purposefully omits the common occurrence of bright and/or well behaved students. Even when I taught remedial classes in an extremely poor neighborhood I still had some students willing to learn who were a pleasure to be around. Your personal failure to not reach those students is not evidence that they did not exist.

    Like

    • Sonya says:

      John never said he didn’t have any students who were willing to work hard, who valued an education, or who were bright and eager to learn. From his article, it sounds like he was simply describing the majority of his students, and the prevailing attitude of the school.

      Like

    • Somebody on the Enterprise please beam Scotty up!

      Scott, you ignorant sl#t, when you call someone a “liar” or a “jaded loser” YOU are using an ad hominem attack…or perhaps you are not nearly as bright as you believe yourself to be?

      Like

  10. T-D. Gonzalez says:

    John, you didn’t seem to mind Gail Miller’s ad hominem attacks. She was too obtuse to realize that some of those posts coudn’t possibily have been written by serious posters (L’Taia and Shenequa, REALLY?) Apparently, Gail, L’Taia, and Shanequa ALL attended the same public schools in the southern United States. In any case, there are few financial resources available for public education in those Red States that refuse to levy any significant amount of income or property taxes. “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes

    Like

    • Sharron Smythe says:

      T-D. Gonzalez. How many of those schools have you been in? Read history. A fancy school building, computers, and equipment does not do diddley squat for children who can’t sit still, have no self control, have the attention span of 2 minutes, and, have little, real respect for learning and education. The culture makes them think that they can become a star, start a rock band, or win the lottery, or sell drugs or just go on welfare. The Red states may not pay as many taxes, but, sure pay plenty. Guess what? Private schools can give a better education to kids for less than half the price. Homeschool costs even less. The public schools are ending up becoming an elaborate baby sitting/prison system for kids with parents who don’t care.

      Like

      • T-D . Gonzalez says:

        Sharron, perhaps if you had taken the time to read my initial post you would have gained a better understanding of my actual views. I think it is YOU who needs to “read history”, and you should learn a bit more about economics while you’re at it as well. People in the Red States “pay plenty” taxes? We are the least taxed among all of the industrialized western nations, which is why we have fallen behind in everything; and it is not only poor kids who are underperforming. Your ideas are simplistic at best, and they reveal your overall lack of understanding.

        Like

    • If you think those names are fictional, you OBVIOUSLY have never been in a school that has a majority/plurality of minority students (hows that for an oxymoron?) Ever heard of the NFL? Here’s a sample of REAL monikers: Captain, Mister, BenJarvus, Champ, Ras-L, D’Brickashaw, D’Quell, Barkevious, LeCharles, Anquan, Craphonso (I crap you not!), Laquivonte.

      For a light hearted take on the issue of unique (also a name chosen for some kids), check out Key and Peele: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gODZzSOelss

      Here is another comedy video of “names” by NON-WHITE comedians.

      For the other side of the coin, once again by Key and Peele:

      http://www.collegehumor.com/embed/6858305/black-substitute-teacher-cannot-pronounce-white-names

      Like

    • Gail Miller says:

      Obtuse? Really? T-D, you really do believe yourself to be quite smart, more like smart a** .. I comment on what people say, how exactly am I to know if they are not serious posters as you say? Do they put an addendum on their post saying “btw this is NOT a serious post”? Because I did not see any such statement. And I have been to schools all over this great nation, from Mass to Ak and in-between. I have seen the poor schools and the rich schools and the ones in the middle. I was raised an Army Brat, my mom spent 20 long hard years serving this country so you can make snide, rude comments that I can chose to ignore or comment on.. I chose to comment because you are so obviously a superior intellect! *sarc* … I comment on yours because you need to be schooled son, you are not superior and needed a verbal smack down, I, you see am highly educated, but when I comment on these threads I chose to talk “normal” so I don’t come off as a total and complete jerk. You on the other hand like to show what a jerk you are. Thank you for this highly entertaining conversation.

      Like

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