The Human Element: Why Classroom Management Matters
Two education related pieces of media came my way recently, and they left a very deep impression on me. First, I heard about Time Magazine's new cover. I hope to review it and respond to it more fully in a later post, but for now I'd just like to talk about my first reaction. I couldn't believe that the 'Bad teachers are what's wrong with education' ideology was still so powerful. It's starting to become very clear that teacher-blaming is having negative consequences on our education system, but this magazine cover shows that there's still a market for an extremely anti-teacher line of thinking. I was surprised and disappointed by that.
The second interesting report came from the public radio show This American Life, which recently did a one hour show on classroom management. The show was lighthearted but still fairly wonky, and took a look the topic from a few different perspectives, including the school to prison pipeline and weak teacher training on classroom management. I was really surprised to hear such a detailed and thorough broadcast on a topic that's rarely discussed at a national level. (Sidenote: I'm a huge fan of this This American Life's education reporting. I especially recommend their series on Harper High, and more recently, their investigation of an elected school board.)
What brings these two pieces together for me is the recent viral video of a teacher fighting with a student here in Baltimore. I won't link to it because it shows violence against a student, and I don't want to promote the video by increasing its page-views. I taught for four years at the school where the video was shot, and I knew the teacher who was involved through a teacher- leadership program we were in several years ago (she's actually a department head, not a teacher). One thing that's been left out of discussions of the fight is that the teacher involved had earned multiple positions of leadership in our district based on the quality and effectiveness of her instruction. When we interacted several years ago, I was consistently impressed by her commitment to her kids, her deep content knowledge and her investment in her work.
I'm not mentioning this to excuse her. In fact, this incident leaves me deeply saddened and sick. Instead, I'm saying that at a surface level, a video of a teacher physically attacking a student seems to support the Time Magazine narrative of bad teachers threatening our students' futures. However, the fight video is also a story that exemplifies the questions raised by the This American Life episode—namely, how can teachers deal with student misbehavior so that events like this never happen again?
I'm frequently worried that student discipline is the elephant in the room in education policy. Discussing what to do with violent or troubled students has fallen by the wayside in favor of trendier topics, like common core and testing (interestingly, the student was taking a standardized test when the video begins). But if we want to improve education in this country, we need to realize that standards and tests alone won't solve our problems. Classroom teachers and school administrators already know this. But from a policy level, we need district, state and national leaders to take heed and work on ways to better support classroom management. This could mean additional funding for mental health supports, social workers, and behavior coaching models.
A student's education is made up of 1000 human interactions each day - each one is an opportunity for either learning or conflict. We need to spend more time focusing on the human element of education: classroom management and culture. We need more training, conversation, resources, and support in this area. I'm not sure this country will reach its educational goals unless we do.