Sunday, January 17, 2016
The Battle For Room 314.
There were many stories about education in the New York Post this week, ranging from the "rubber rooms" (they never went away), our disconnected union leadership using our dues to thank Andrew Cuomo, and the fight between Mayor Bill de Blasio with the principals union on the micromanaging of the renewal schools. Here was the original New York Times Opinion piece by the President of the CSA, Ernest Logan. However, what really caught my attention was the excerpts from a new book called "The battle for room 314". The book was written by a failed first year teacher who left the high-paying business world to teach in a small Bloomberg school in lower Manhattan and quit at year's end due to frustration, disrespect, and lack of support, a very common problem in the New York City school system. The book's complete title is “The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School” while I have not read the book yet, the excerpts tell the story of what's happening in our public schools. Let's go through the excerpts and identify the very many recurring issues we see in the schools today.
The author claims the school is 100% minority (one white student in the entire school) and many are apparently over aged and under credited. Peer pressure at the school makes any student who wants to follow the rules and eager to learn a target for bullying, intimidation, and ostracized from the student body. They come from poverty, broken homes, and violence is a recurring theme with many of these students. The disrespect to the school staff is obvious when you read the excerpts. For example, the teacher is gay and one student wrote on his blackboard that he was a faggot. Or another one yelled in the hallway that who the teacher was balling was no chick. Worse, the teacher was investigated for sexual harassment, as a female student lied about what he said to her, despite the fact that everybody knew he was gay! Even worse, they left the student in his class and told the teacher not to be alone with her! By the end of the year the teacher was disillusioned and petrified to return to the school for another year and resigned.
Like all principals during this period, they hired who they liked (thanks to Eric Nadelstern) and not what was needed for their students to succeed. He hired teachers that lived overseas and that included many "newbies" to the New York City schools who experienced a definite culture shock in instructing these challenging students. Furthermore, the Principal did not suspend students, even the ones that made learning impossible, as one student said "its three hundred strikes and your out".. The staff referred to the Principal as the "fearless leader" for his failure to lead or take action against dangerous students, making instruction and learning nearly impossible to do.
Unfortunately, this school sounds like far too many high schools in the City, especially the Bloomberg small schools, and his story can be repeated over and over again in schools that have "high needs" students. The Daily News has an article about how unsafe the schools are and how the Bill de Blasio administration is not showing the true scale of violence in the schools.
The solution is complex but first and foremost we need to eliminate deep poverty, have consequences for student misbehavior (not restorative justice), and most of all a peaceful classroom where students feel safe and protected so they can break the chain of poverty and destroy the school to prison pipeline. Putting a bandage on an infection just hides the illness and doesn't cure it and that is what is going on in far too many of our schools then and at present.