Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Tale Of Two Schools: Same County, 7 Miles, A World Apart

NC State House

I think that there should be a law that states: Before any politician can cut funding to schools, they should be forced to teach in the most vulnerable school in their district for two weeks, and figure out how their legislation is going to impact those kids. 

Take what happened recently.  I worked in two schools on the same day.  One school was in an old, so last century building that desperately needs to be rehabbed or closed and possibly rebuilt.  It is understaffed, doesn't have adequate services for the special needs kids, does not often have assemblies, and clearly needs more support for the teachers. 

Less than ten miles from the first school, in the same county, I worked in a second school.  This school is gorgeous.  The building is beautiful, there is plenty of staff for the students who need special attention, the kids are relaxed, the staff is less stressed, everyone is more cooperative, and the kids are obviously getting more support.
this is not the actual school, but you get the picture...nice and new

When I arrived at the first school, I had an interesting conversation with a staff member.  I asked a question I often ask when I come into a school.

“What is your demographic here?”  There happened to be an African American girl walking through the gym. 

The teacher pointed to the girl and whispered, “They’re mostly like that.  African American.  But they’re pretty good.  They can be respectful.”  This person continued to talk about ‘them’ and how it is to work with 'them'.  Several other comments were made to suggest that these students were doing projects that were not all that impressive, but impressive enough for students like 'them'.

I had a moment.  I thought, ‘Doesn’t this person realize I am an African American?’  It never came up.

I couldn’t decide how to respond to this.  Instead, I just watched.  As the students came into the gym, this teacher was quite wonderful, and the children enjoyed this person.

There were several students who were taken out of the area even before the show started because they needed extra support, and the school did not offer it.

During the course of the first show, the students were told under dire penalty that they must be quiet and pay attention.  Only thing is, many of the teachers didn’t bother to model this behavior, and spent most of their time talking to each other during the assembly.  Others took this time to stare at their phones and surf the internet.  There were some teachers who actually participated, but they were not in the majority.  There was a buzz going on during the show, but it was not the kids.

My apologies to these chatting teachers, who are probably not disrupting an assembly!

At first, I attempted to get the teachers to participate with me, but they actively ignored me and my concern was that if the kids saw how disrespectful most of the teachers were being, they would decide to follow suit.  Some of them did, and the teachers swooped down on them and corrected them quite harshly.  It was madness.

The second set was better.  The teachers participated, did not talk, and most of the kids were all right.  I attempted to get a couple of girls to straighten up for the last story, and they turned around, but because I corrected them from the stage, they were escorted out of the assembly.  They had a substitute, and that person was enjoying his phone, and didn't bother to do any discipline with the kids.  It was kind of a mess.

Then, I had my two shows in the afternoon.  It was so much fun.  The kids had a great time.  There was a small group of kids in the back who had various issues, but were able to stay in the assembly because there was staffing to sit with them, and help them be successful.

With a bit of minor correction, which you have to expect, the kids were very successful, and we had a wonderful show.

I'm in Martinsville here, not today, but I am having a great show!

The make up of these schools wasn’t appreciably different.  The first school was probably 85% African American; the second school was maybe 75%.  The economic status of these kids was pretty much the same.  All of these kids will be attending the same Middle School, which is also gorgeous and new with all the bells and whistles.  So, at least there is that. 

There were many problems at the first school that went from the strange application of discipline, the way the staff interacted with the students, the students' reactions to each other, the atmosphere in the building, and so many other things.

There were also wonderful teachers at the first school who are clearly doing a great job.  There were enthusiastic, helpful staff members who were wonderful.  I have no doubt most of the teachers are doing what they can.  I love teachers, and salute them because I would suck at being a classroom teacher, and I appreciate people who do this work.  Sometimes, however,  I stare in amazement at the choices some of them make.

I am always exhausted after days like this.  I consider how much funding is being cut from schools.  I can only imagine what these cuts will do to the schools that already suffer from a lack of support for their students, EC students, kids who need writing or reading recovery, those who lag behind in math or science, and those who need extra material because they are bored.

I am thankful for the arts councils that bring me into the schools.  I wish there was much more funding for arts councils so more kids could spend time with professional writers, singers, performers and visual artists of all types.  I wish every kid had enough support to be successful whether they need more challenges, or because every day they struggle with challenges of their own.  We owe it to them.  We owe it to ourselves.  We owe it to the future.

Fund Our Schools!!!


  1. Wow. A.Mazing. Forgive me...I know you didn't use the R word for racism, and I don't meant to be reactionary about your story, but it seemed to me a wee bit racist for the first teacher to refer to some of the black students as "them." Hmm. So disturbing that those teachers would use the time of your presentation as their free time. They are modeling to their young charges such a disrespectful behavior and attitude. I'm sorry about that. It makes me wonder what the principal is like. I truly believe that as the head of an organization goes, whether school, business, social club, or church, so will the group behind him/her follow.

    1. Retha, that school had a whole host of issues from the structure of the school to the atmosphere and mindset of the adults. I think people don't realize how their behavior comes across to an outsider. I cannot speak to what the teacher who was giving me info about the kids was thinking, but I am pretty sure that person would be very horrified if someone used the word racism. This person would most likely use all sorts of examples to prove no racism exists in their world outlook. I think this is a question of unconscious bias. It is endemic in our society. When we try to address it head on, it freaks people to the point of making them announce there is no racism, and the people who see it are just looking for problems. We carry on and do what we do. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

  2. Donna this is why it is so important that you work in schools so that these students hear other voices from adults that care about them and respect them. We are also educating some of the adults in the room. I have a letter that I sometimes send to the school addressed to the teachers about my up coming visit that encourages them to relax and enjoy the show, they've earned the time to go to the theater and not correct papers. Who knows they may see a lesson plan spilling out of a story

    1. Well said, Len. I'm glad you are out there doing it as well. Though, I must admit there are days I feel like I am climbing uphill with lots of weight on my back! Knowing that there are lots of others doing the lifting makes the load seem much, much less!