October 10, 2008

Why "hazard pay" for tough schools won't work

Scary -- but all too real -- story in the Philly Daily News today:

LOOKING BACK on her brief stint as a Philadelphia schoolteacher causes "Rebecca" to shake her head sorrowfully.

Every day of that career, she says, she had to break up fights between her fourth-graders, who cursed and threatened each other - often making good on the taunts.

She spent far more time on discipline than on teaching.

Administrators at Samuel H. Daroff School offered her little help and did not provide a promised mentor teacher, she says.

So, on the seventh day of classes, Rebecca quit - walking away from a $41,000-a-year job in the School District of Philadelphia.

Rebecca - not her real name - has $50,000 in student loans, but says she does not regret leaving because her mental health was at stake.

"It was the worst experience of my life," she says of the first day of class, Sept. 4, at the West Philadelphia school.

Many teachers, administrators and union officials often talk of "hazard pay," a euphemism for extra salary for teaching in "difficult" schools -- "difficult" meaning where students are essentially out of control. But how much extra pay would be sufficient to entice teachers to "teach" (in quotes since not much actual teaching gets done in such schools) in such schools? $5K? $10K? $20K?

I don't know, but I do know this: I wouldn't take a job in such a school if they offered me double my salary. Is such a high salary worth the price of attempting -- virtually each and every day of the week, class period after class period -- to maintain control of a class of students who want to fight, scream and run around, and yell profanity at each other -- and at you? "Rebecca" was right -- the cost alone in mental health would be tremendous. Hell, your general health alone would suffer appreciably as anxiety levels would never recede. Adrenaline racing through your veins constantly ... and at what cost?

Teachers are fleeing the district, she reasons, because they are tired of having to put up with out-of-control students while receiving little or no help from school administrators.

"Those people who are higher up in the district need to get honest about what is going on in the schools in this city. You cannot hide behind music-teacher and special-education-teacher shortages and an interim contract," she huffs, seated at the dining-room table in the tidy Northeast Philadelphia townhouse she shares with her parents.

I think this is what way too many outside of education don't fully grasp. (And by "outside" I mean parents and not-in-the-classroom edu-crats and administrators.) The impulse is often to blame teachers for out of control students and classes. Either they're not "trained" properly or they need some sort of "special inservice lessons" on something like "[white] teacher racism and privilege." And many with this impulse are, again as noted, often administrators. But if a school is perceived as a "problem" school, I say you can usually bet that its administration is "weak" -- they will either make excuses for kids who cause problems, ignore them altogether, and/or make trouble for teachers who actually attempt to enforce what those in the "real world" would consider proper and just discipline.

As administrators and edu-crats continue "to study" the issue of "problem schools," a thing called Occam's Razor comes to mind: "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best." And what is that in this case? I like the Joe Clark approach to "tough" schools: Get rid of the thugs and hoodlums, for starters, especially those who are over 16 years of age. Remember what Clark says at his unforgettable first lecture to the school: "You are all expurgated. You are dismissed! You are out of here, forever." This isn't as easy as it was made to seem, however. It was only briefly touched on that Clark got into hot water for booting these kids (one of which was a mom of one of the thugs who later made a deal with the mayor to get rid of Clark. Some "mom," eh?) But actions such as Clark's should be made easier to accomplish. There are too many in education who believe that, no matter what, ANY student has a "right" to be in a classroom. It doesn't matter how many times a kid has been in trouble; it doesn't matter how many times the kid has threatened other students and/or teacher; it doesn't matter how many times the kid has been arrested! To these such edu-crats, this kid has a RIGHT to be in the classroom.

But what about those kids who are school for the actual purpose of school? Y'know, to learn? What about their rights?

To be sure, many administrators are hamstrung by their higher-ups and by lawyers (district and/or those hired by troublemaker students' parents). School districts have a financial choice to make in that "is it worth the cost to fight a legal battle over whether a kid can remain in school, or just let him back in?" Then there's the issue of what to do with the "trouble" students once they're banished from regular school. The most obvious response to that is to establish more "alternative schools," staffed by strict disciplinarians (preferably ex-military) and those specializing in behavioral problems and disorders.

But then this opens up a whole can of other worms: What would it take -- in other words, how many disruptions/types of infractions would it take for a student to get sent to an alternative school? And what about the political difficulties involved in those decisions, such as charges of bias ... and/or racism?

The bottom line is that something must change in [public] schools in order for them to survive. We have seen some changes -- like those right here in Delaware, most as a result of the public becoming fed up with a lot of said edu-crat nonsense. Probably the most significant development is the prodigious growth of charter schools. In addition, [public] school choice has been massively taken advantage of here in the first state. Parents know which schools possess the no-nonsense administrations (and teachers). If you don't want the public to "vote with their feet," one of the simplest answers is to just "stop the nonsense.

Posted by Hube at October 10, 2008 01:13 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

well said and a solid common sense approach to a difficult topic...therein and of itself is the problem- it makes common sense to get rid of those that aren't there to learn...but when youtalk of common sense with the educrats, administrativia types at central office, ivory tower types at colleges, and gov't officials, common sense is one thing 'they' don't understand because they are too caught up in the 'everybody can learn'- which is only true if everybody chooses to learn, and the thugs are told not to let the door kick them in the aspirin! A big thing now at the school/district/ and state levels is to 'watch your discipline rates' because we don't want to have too many discipline referals and we definitely want to monitor 'who' we discipline to avoid lawsuits!!!!!!!!

Posted by: cardinals fan at October 10, 2008 09:02 PM

Or, you make waves, do not get rehired, and get Blackballed from education.

Posted by: Paul Falkowski at October 11, 2008 10:30 PM

I am a recently retired senior high teacher who spent 38 years in the classroom. Thirty-one of those years were in "problem" schools.
Classroom discipline and order is 99% dependent on a teacher's personal qualities and personality. Sorry, Rebecca you were not cut out to be a teacher in any school.
I spent 20 of my 38 years in the classroom of a low performing school in South Central Los Angeles's "worst" neighborhood and helped dozens average students pass Advanced Placement test as did many of my colleagues.
Those teachers(the vast majority of the 95 classroom staff at that high school) kept order despite the deep problems of the neighborhood and the usual coterie of 10-15 instructors who allowed hell to unfold in their classes and spill out onto the campus on a daily basis.
Those teachers who could keep order were usually more than happy to see the usually rookie inept depart. Despite the neighborhood problems and bad situations created by the incompetent disciplinarians at the high school in Watts I had an orderly classroom of of overwhelmingly cooperative polite kids many of whom the previous hour had come from classes where bedlam reigned abd to which some had been active contributors.
Despite the fact that a majority of my charges during my 38 years in the educational trenches had reading levels as low first grade (the average was just below fifth grade) most of the students who attended with regularity learned something.
I often had a weak teacher assigned to the a classroom next door who allowed chaos to rule so that I and other "strong" teachers could keep a lid on things nearby.
Are new teachewers given sufficient help to meet the challenges they face by administrators and the system? The answer is generally a resounding no but far too often I found the novices who were floundering unwilling to take suggestions from their experienced peers.
Do and should administrators give new teachers more support related to discipline? Again the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Teachers who succeed in any school soon learn that you receive little or no backing from our all to often dysfunctional educrats. The reality that nearly all teacher quickly discover is that you are on your own and you sink or swim by yourself.
Education courses, mentor teachers, and administrative backing are in fact lergely a joke. Will combat pay help solve personnel problems in hard to staff schools. You bet! In my 38 years in the classroom I saw far to many dynamic and competent colleagues light out for "better" higher performing schools with fewer problems and better motivated students. If the pay in problem schools was 25-30% higher would more effective teachers have have remained in my problem school You Bet!
I personally stayed in my position in South Central Los Angeles's "worst" because it was an easy commute home and more importantly I created my own niche. I was able to stake out the school's small corp of better students for one or two hours a day plus the word passed from the older kids to the ninth graders "Don't Mess Around in Old Man ______'s Class Because ... " And besides you can learn in his room and he makes class fun with his corny jokes and wise aleck commentary.
Today when I arrived at my neighborhood bank to resolve an acount problem I was recognized by a thirty-fivish man as Mr. _________ from_______ High School. One of those kids from that problem inner city school is now the operations officer at my neighborhood bank.


Posted by: Paul at October 18, 2008 01:16 AM