Author’s Note: I wrote this essay in October, 2003. I’m publishing it now because, it seems to me, we have arrived at the Destination described herein. If you disagree, please leave a comment and tell me why. If you agree, you’re welcome to leave a comment telling me what you think about that, too. I’ll probably even answer you. — Fred Eder
Leaving no child behind is an honorable and achievable goal. Teachers are accustomed to overcoming the enormous challenges put before us every day. Where once we were responsible only for the students’ academic skills, we are now in charge of teaching them the values of cultural diversity, sexual responsibility, and drug awareness. And just as we have met these challenges with overwhelming success, so, too, will we meet the challenge of getting students to reach the destination of our President’s Educational Train, leaving no child behind.
Arriving at the Station
The first requirement for learning to take place is that the students must attend school. Following the president’s metaphor, this would mean that the child must first arrive at the station. I feel sure that my school is not alone in its ever- increasing population of students who miss in excess of 40% of the standard school year. Sometimes students are chronically and suspiciously ill (especially on Fridays), sometimes they are suspended, and, all too often, they simply tell their parents they don’t want to come today, and they stay home and play video games. There is little the school can do to combat this problem. At more than one Pupil Evaluation Team (P.E.T.) meeting I have heard the Team recommend a bus be sent directly to the child’s doorstep to help her get to school. The bus is sent, but the child never boards the bus. A child who never makes it to the station can not help but be left behind. Nevertheless, leaving no child behind is an honorable and achievable goal.
How, though, are we to teach students who don’t attend school? As Mohamed might tell us about mountains, if the students won’t come to the school, the school must go to the students. We could hire teachers who travel from home to home to teach these students between sessions of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 for Play Station 2.
The cost of these extra teachers could come from school bake sales, or perhaps from having students go door to door selling candy, since, evidently, the funding will not be coming from the federal and state governments that promised it to us when they increased our responsibilities. The students might even sell some of their candy to the teachers who are working in the homes they visit.
On those days that these students do attend school, we can assign some of our Educational Technicians to assist them in catching up on the work they have missed while they were playing video games. To leave no child behind is clearly an honorable and achievable goal.
Boarding the Train
Assuming the child arrives at the station, it is next necessary that she actually boards the train. If I understand the metaphor correctly, this would be the equivalent of actually engaging the work that teachers set out for the students in order to help them learn. While many students do come to class regularly, there is among them a population which does no more than breathe the air in the room. Certainly, modifications can be, should be, and are made to assist these students. Educational Technicians work with them individually when the staffing makes it possible. Special procedures are put in place to help spark the student’s interest, encourage participation, and reward effort. For many students, these interventions are indeed effective, but not for all of them.
There are those students who, regardless of the best efforts of the Teachers, Educational Technicians, Administrators, Counselors, Social Workers and Parents, simply will not make an effort. There is, in the final analysis, nothing that can be done to force someone to try if she doesn’t want to. While the student may arrive at the station, she won’t necessarily get on board the train. Nevertheless, leaving no child behind is an honorable and achievable goal.
In order to meet the needs of those who won’t make any effort, we must determine why they won’t try. They may have lacked success in the past. There may have been emotional traumas which make it more difficult for them to put pencil to paper. In order to solve this problem, it is only necessary to conduct a thorough and searching investigation using all the tests we currently have, developing new ones, and bringing in Social Workers, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Family Doctors and, if need be, Psychics who will determine what needs to happen in order for the child to begin to engage the work.
The funding for all of these professionals could be found in school dances, talent shows, or bottle drives, since, again, we can be sure the government that imposed this program on us will not be paying for it. I have also recently observed that the students’ learning time, which is a valuable resource, can be sold to professional basketball teams, who represent a valuable source of funding. For a mere $1,000, the Boston Celtics got a captive and adoring audience for purposes of an hour long commercial for their team. The educational message, which lasted, in a generous estimate, for two and a half minutes, was admittedly important: you should always work hard.
While it’s true that the teachers at my school deliver this message to their students almost daily, we’re not as important as professional basketball players, and the message is much more powerful coming from Jo Jo White, while the Celtics mascot runs around slapping students’ hands, and the team’s Public Relations executive is passing out free tickets to kids who know Celtics trivia.
It’s hard to blame my principal, my superintendent, or even my governor, all of whom attended this “very special” assembly, for their choice. If the money can’t be found in any other way, they need to do what they can. The only commodity they have to sell is time with the students. If it seems to be to the students’ detriment to sacrifice class time for commercials, the case can be made that at least their students may have a few more books or supplies. These are important to the students’ education, too.
If this won’t pay for all the professionals we need to get the students to engage the work given to them, we can assign some of our Educational Technicians to assist them, because, as we know, leaving no child behind is an honorable and achievable goal.
Making the Train Safe for All
There is an additional population that keeps our train from moving safely toward its destination. This group is made up of those who do attend school, and who can often learn, but feel the need to disrupt. It is difficult to blame most of these students for their behaviors. One of my colleagues recently made the observation that he would, under no circumstances, trade lives with some of our students.
We have an ever-increasing population of those who are frequently arrested. We have some who are using drugs. There are others who are dealing with different forms of abuse at home, and whose parents are too drunk or too stoned to give them any sort of guidance or help. If parents do impart their values to their children, the values thus imparted are frequently in direct conflict with those we are called upon to instill in our students. It is all but impossible to convince a student whose father is in prison and whose mother is usually unable to communicate through her drug or alcohol induced haze that the multiplication tables have any relevance to her life, or that putting a period at the end of a sentence is an important part of communication. One student, whose father is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence for dealing drugs, told me education was of no importance to him since he would simply take over his father’s business. His intimidation and assaults upon his fellow students is much better training for his chosen future than is anything I can teach him.
Our train, however, being a public train, is required to transport all those who board it, and we will find a solution to this problem as well. After all, leaving no child behind is an honorable and achievable goal.
For the students who are on board the train only to disrupt its travels, it is possible simply to send them out of the classroom, so that we can teach the rest of the students. Of course, these students will miss out on what we are trying to teach, and the test scores that our government has decided will determine our school’s future will show that.
Since this won’t do if we are to leave no child behind, we could have special classes, made up exclusively of these students, with a highly trained and qualified set of teachers who work just with this population. Although my school’s current staffing makes this impossible, our Special Education Director has assured us that these students are manageable if only we will use the staff we now have more effectively.
Since there is neither the funding for specialists to deal with these students, nor the space for them to have a classroom if such teachers could be found, what we really need to do is just what the President’s plan suggests: replace the teachers who are not being effective. If a veteran teacher can’t handle students who yell out in class, bully other students, sell drugs in the hallways, or stand on the desk singing, then we need to get rid of that teacher. Teachers with many years of experience cost way too much anyway, so the obvious answer is to replace them with the vastly superior first and second year teachers that are coming out of our colleges in record numbers.
After all, with all of its rewards, many students in college today must certainly aspire to enter the teaching profession. Surely, teachers with no experience, but well armed with all that can be taught in modern Methods Classes, will be perfectly equipped to handle the problems that students in this population present.
If these teachers require additional assistance to help with these students, perhaps we can have our Educational Technicians take these students in the hall and help them to learn there. See what an honorable and achievable goal it is to leave no child behind?
Serving Our Passengers
Having made arrangements for those who rarely attend, those who make no effort, and those who are a threat to the learning and safety of the rest, we are left with a smaller population who show up on time to meet the train, get on board, and are ready and eager to travel down the tracks toward our destination. Among this population are those who, despite their best efforts, can not seem to grasp some of the material. These are the students that most of us want most to help. Teaching is, after all, a “helping” profession. We are, all of us, here because we want to help others. We are all more than willing to do anything and everything possible to help those who really want to learn. All that is necessary for the success of those students who do not qualify for a Special Education program, but who still can’t quite figure it all out, is some time and attention.
The solution for this group is simple. In Middle School, we have Educational Technicians who are experts in serving just this function. Although in a class of thirty, with 47 minutes to teach them all, a single teacher may not be able to spend the appropriate amount of time with each of these students, our Ed. Techs are ready, willing, and able.
Of course, there is the difficulty of locating our Ed. Techs. Many of them are working with those students who are way behind because they have missed school so often. Others are assisting those students who won’t put a pencil to paper. The remaining Ed. Techs are being used in the hallway to assist those students who are only here to disrupt. What does that leave us to help the students who really want to learn, but just need that helping hand?
Well, perhaps these students aren’t all that important anyway. After all, they’ll probably pass the high-stakes test, even if their scores aren’t as high as they might be. They can read, write and do basic calculations. They’re here in school, they try their best, and they behave well. These students are by no means achieving all that they might, but they certainly aren’t being left behind. And, of course, what is most important is our honorable and achievable goal of leaving no child behind.
Finally, we need to see where we will arrive, once we have gotten all of our students there. It would seem we will arrive at a place in which ALL of our students have at least some minimal skills. They can read, if by this we mean that they can decode words and find at least a superficial meaning in written language. They are certainly capable of comprehending the pop-up ads on the internet, and the advertising in magazines and on billboards. They are probably not ready to comprehend great literature, but, after all, what difference does the writing of a lot of dead white guys make anyway?
They can write well enough to send e-mails and conduct online chats. They know that the word “you” is more properly spelled “u.” It saves time, after all, to write it this way, and we need to have as much time as possible so we can use our writing skills to send vitally important messages, like, “Sup,” (which I am told means, “What’s up?” – a vitally important message itself), and to communicate with others on the same intellectual level.
Certainly they can solve simple mathematical problems, and probably balance their checkbooks. They may not have the ability to do any real problem solving, or to examine alternatives and choose the ones most likely to bring about desired results, but how important is that really anyway? Our students can now get jobs, respond to advertising and use the money they earn to buy the products advertised on TV, the internet and in magazines, and keep our economy healthy enough for the millionaires whose tax cuts are creating the low-paying jobs for which our students have been successfully trained.
Certainly these are the intended outcomes of public education. These are the lofty goals to which I, like all teachers, aspired when I became certified. We should all be proud to have met such an honorable goal. Congratulations, fellow educators. We have left no child behind.
“…and Brutus is an honorable man”Some Dead White Guy
Biddeford Middle School