An Urban Teacher's Education
February 12, 2011 2:03 PM   Subscribe

An Urban Teacher's Education is a intelligent, touching and very personal blog about the challenges that a high school teacher faces in the Bronx. [via]
posted by Foci for Analysis (14 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Related: If New York City were a nation, its level of income concentration would rank 15th worst among 134 countries, between Chile and Honduras. Wall Street, with its stratospheric profits and bonuses, sits within 15 miles of the Bronx -- the nation's poorest urban county.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 2:27 PM on February 12, 2011

That's my job- except I have 4 minutes to go to (get to..through crowded hallways and sometimes it's occupied which involves sprinting up another flight of stairs through more crowds and back) the bathroom and a slightly shorter trip there! Yes...why don't we use the technology??! WHY?!?! And now we have to compile paperwork etc. for each student so instead of students having their own books, folders, calculators,'s my (our) job to distribute them daily. To 34 people, per 47 min period, 5x a day, with the mentioned moving between classrooms. problem! Why should students have to carry more than a bag of chips??My bag can totally fit all that! I don't mind running around- I'll just fit the math lesson in the remaining 8-10 minutes- IF the phone doesn't ring or the fire alarm doesn't go off! And the 'fire the lazy bastards' articles in the NY post every morning aren't helping the old morale any either. Please, I wish people would come and visit the schools more often- you would not believe the things you would see/hear. Read those Jonathan Kozol books....argh, usually I try to have stress-free saturdays, I should have skipped this article.
posted by bquarters at 2:40 PM on February 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

I always like to watch people's reactions when I tell them that the poorest Congressional district (by median household income) is in New York City. From the description that this teacher gives on their blog, I'm guessing they teach somewhere in that district.

That having been said I'm not much of a believer, but I can't help but think that there is a special place in the next life for someone who teaches in a place like the South Bronx. They're like gold prospectors in a way: Working year in and year out knowing full well that their efforts will be futile for 99% of the kids they're there to teach, but doing it anyway in the hope of someday finding and reaching that one kid, and giving them something they can use to escape the meat grinder of urban poverty.
posted by deadmessenger at 3:10 PM on February 12, 2011

Thanks, The Whelk, somehow I missed that. Equally fun/depressing.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:21 PM on February 12, 2011

The blog is excellent, very candid and moving in places, thank you.

The following, however, is slightly ranty...

Many years ago I worked as a school teacher, not in the best part of town. 8 years. Never again. Most challenging (intellectually, emotionally, creatively), physically demanding, stressful, underpaid, under-appreciated, overworked, and misunderstood profession out there I'd wager. Since then I've moved on through the corporate world, publishing, and on to running my own business. Each has its own challenges. But teaching was by far the most difficult of them all, and paid the worst. I'm not suggesting the other professions are easier per se - but rather that their cost/benefit ratios are far greater.

There's a myth in our contemporary society: that the best jobs out there are the most demanding, difficult, and challenging. That the higher pay is deserved because of higher demand for specialized skills and more stress due to "responsibility." It may be true in some cases (I have enormous respect for medical care practitioners in general), but on the whole I think the myth doesn't bear up under scrutiny.

What profession has more stress and responsibility than that of an educator? And how are the skills required of an educator (being a good teacher requires a phenomenally diverse range of skills, of which an understanding of the curriculum to be taught is the proverbial tip of the iceberg) less specialized than those of most other 4-year Bachelor professions?

Amongst the people I know [anecdata], those with higher-paying jobs work less, take longer vacations, have better medical care, enjoy healthier and more delicious food, and when they fail, they have the financial and social capacity to shrug it off and move on to try again.

The poorer people, on the other hand, work themselves to an early grave, clawing for every paycheck, short holiday (maybe), their daughter's flu medicine, etc, etc.

None of this is new. I imagine it has always been this way, since the dawn of human civilization. To be rich (and to be clear I'm not just talking about money, I'm talking about richness of life, including time, health, enjoyment, lack of stress, respect and sense of social worth, amongst other things) is to live well, and to be poor, is to suffer.

The question is, however, do we really want education to be a 'poor profession'? "Those who can't do, teach..."
posted by jet_manifesto at 3:36 PM on February 12, 2011 [11 favorites]

Great writing, thanks for sharing.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:24 PM on February 12, 2011

Having been a teacher in a low-income, urban community, I know about many of the frustrations this teacher faces, and I think the author does a good job of showing how they can get in the way of productive learning. But the author also seems to pass the buck a lot, which I can't get behind. I didn't read every post, but I didn't see any stories about difficulties that were encountered and subsequently overcome. Maybe those just don't get written about.

Also, I wish Frank Beard weren't published here (or anywhere else for that matter). He just sounds like a kid who couldn't hack it as a teacher and is now bitter about it.
posted by PhatLobley at 4:40 PM on February 12, 2011

The question is, however, do we really want education to be a 'poor profession'? "

actually, i think the question is that if you were a kid growing up poor in the Bronx, what is the life-path that will make you into a teacher in the Bronx? that's the feedback loop which changes things. right now, if you started off poor in the bronx, made it through 4 years of college, etc. there are a world of opportunities better than being a teacher and besides, becoming a teacher means subordinating your own knowledge and beliefs about the community you came from to the bureaucratic/political agenda of the NYC school system.

there will always be missionaries writing memoirs.
posted by at 4:40 PM on February 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

An informal survey I gave my students at the beginning of the year taught me that all but one of my students had never heard of Hitler...

Earlier in the same post:
In its first draft, the introduction from one of my most struggling students reads like this:

"The French Revolution was like pan because tea and Americn were like same and John Locke democracia but this make difference because tea party rise of bread costs raise but people revel after they kind no think so this make political and I think but Americans were fight for same as us one day King and slaves were French economica money makes politics win this like Boston tea party and intolerable acts and third estates because life too spency not like normal."
While the essay isn't necessarily a great piece on the assigned topic, I think it's the closest I've ever come to understanding the present-day Tea Party movement. Like a Jodorowsky film, the incoherence of the piece transports you to a new conceptual space that resonates with truths that exist outside the boundaries of language.

The student who wrote the essay was a SIFE (student with interrupted formal education) who had been in school for a grand total of three years, and in an English-speaking country for only two. I do not see how that student could succeed in a general class with other students, even other ESL students, if that class's day is divided up into the usual subjects and is taught with any method similar to what I experienced in my primary school years.

Every student in the class is, according to that post, three to seven grade levels behind where they should be. It is amazing to me that the school somehow wants teachers to soldier on through a "curriculum." I feel like an elite squad of culture translators should rush into the class like a SWAT team and spend the next two to twenty years teaching students in small groups of four to five that share a common home language.

There should be only two subjects. First is literature, taught with an emphasis on metaphor and analogy. The focus should be on fostering a native-level understanding of English and should use only exciting, contemporary works that speak to the students and their experiences for at least the first few years, with no fucking Shakespeare or Scarlet Letter or anything, really, written prior to 1960 and plenty of literature from their home countries and/or cultures. The other subject should be math, taught in a manner that attempts to be language agnostic.

As the group progresses, they should be merged with other groups at a similar level, growing in size as they grow in knowledge until they are about the size of a standard class. History and earth science concepts should be introduced gradually through fiction and memoir, with an emphasis on understanding perspective, rhetoric, bias, and method rather than memorization of facts such as the date Columbus "discovered" America or how many electrons are part of a typical Hydrogen atom. The elite group of culture translators should remain on-hand at all times to help navigate the different expectations, metaphors, and behaviors that sometimes work to trip up communication across cultures. Whenever possible, classes should go outside and spend hours reading and talking about the books they're reading with each other, stopping every now and then to play tag or ultimate frisbee (for no more than fifteen minutes every two hours). Every student is given an iPod so they can go on class hikes while listening to their reading assignments being read to them by Alan Rickman.

After years of this, the students would, I imagine, be well versed at communicating in English and their original language far beyond the capacity of most native speakers of either, which would allow them nearly by default to find well-paying jobs in our globally connected world, where bilingualism is approximately 3,000% more practical than a college education, which they have already surpassed in all likelihood simply by dent of having read critically and thoughtfully a wide range of books that contained elements from all over the wide range of human experience and thought on history, religion, political theory, human rights, ethics, culture, and philosophy.

But I don't think that's going to happen, so instead we get lesson plans and standardized tests. Race to the top!
posted by jsturgill at 5:16 PM on February 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

"The French Revolution was like pan because tea and Americn were like same and John Locke democracia but this make difference because tea party rise of bread costs raise but people revel after they kind no think so this make political and I think but Americans were fight for same as us one day King and slaves were French economica money makes politics win this like Boston tea party and intolerable acts and third estates because life too spency not like normal."

That reads like the student wrote a run-on sentence in Spanish and auto-translated it to English.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:00 AM on February 13, 2011

This is such a depressing read, but I'm very glad I've been reading it. I liked this bit:

I transferred this idea over to a colleague of older gentleman who decided to leave a long career in consulting to begin teaching - certainly a brave career move, especially in our particular environment. He said that in his 45-year career in the private sector, nobody would realistically be expected to perform the way teachers are expected to perform. He related the job of teaching to that of a mid-level manager, but he argued that the analogy fails to maintain its accuracy when you consider that teachers are generally responsible for 85-150 students, whereas few managers deal with more than eight or ten employees. On top of this, teachers are asked to design, implement and assess, all of which are jobs he said would be allocated to different individuals in the private sector. In addition, teachers generally have to deal with behavioral issues far worse (and with far fewer meaningful tools to use as consequences) than a private-sector manager might have. We concluded that the expectations put upon us are an enormous joke.
posted by mediareport at 8:43 AM on February 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

In my urban district, most of us are responsible for 140-175 students. (Some, illegally, more than 200. These teachers are on the verge of breakdowns.) We all wish we could do more. A lot of what goes on with teaching is unspoken and unobservable. Getting a note from a brilliant student that I was the reason he didn't drop out of school last year was worth more than a 10K raise. I used to be him.
posted by kozad at 10:41 AM on February 13, 2011

Wow. I went into this blog expecting to like it, because I'm very interested in education, my parents were both teachers, I have a huge amount of sympathy for the crap that public school teachers have to go through. Instead what I saw was a vilifying of kids... the disruptive ones, the kids with behavior challenges, the "ones who wreck it for everybody else." A parent guest blogger was advocating that all kids like this should be sent away to military or reform boarding schools! There seems to be a widespread agreement on this blog that more punishment will make schools better. I'm not buying.

My kid is one of "those kids." And it's not because he's bad, or undisciplined, or mean. It's because he's in a classroom situation where his needs aren't being met. His disability (Asperger syndrome) means that he can't be treated as just one of 22. He does need extra attention. He does melt down, and has hit, because when situations overwhelm him these behaviors are out of his control. He's been suspended 8 times so far, and he's only in 2nd grade. More punishment won't help him. A military-style boarding school would be a nightmare. Kids like these need support, and settings that suit their needs. They don't need the teachers who are supposed to care for them but instead put their energy into demonizing children on their blogs.
posted by Daily Alice at 12:10 PM on February 13, 2011

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