“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Monday, April 26, 2010

Good intentions and laziness

In my role as a special ed professor, I am often visiting classrooms where student teachers work under a "master" teacher in order to learn how to be a teacher through direct practice. Typically these classrooms are a mixed bag. There are some teachers who truly are masters at what they do. I look forward to visiting those classrooms because I can always learn something new from them. Although I teach teachers how to work with children with moderate to severe disabilities, my actual classroom teaching experience is 20 years old. So to visit the class of an excellent teacher who has been teaching for 20 years is a treat for me!

But then, there are those teachers who for whatever reason are doing little or nothing. It is like they got a credential from a school and then just stopped doing anything that reflects best practices. It breaks my heart when I see students in these kinds of classes, and breaks my heart even more when teachers that I have trained have regressed to this level. This semester has been particularly disheartening on both of these levels.

On visiting one of my student teachers, the "master" teacher literally had 2 and 1/2 hours of free time built into the schedule. I can't believe that the school district would tolerate such a thing, but perhaps that tells you what they think about students with severe disabilities. The time spent "working" was filled with doing endless puzzles, or sitting in a circle singing songs, which could be a good instructional activity if the students had the intellectual capability to learn from the songs but unfortunately they didn't. Other activities are totally non functional for the students. Yet the one teacher had a bulletin board by her desk covered with recognitions/awards from the district, and the other teacher I think had good intentions, liked his students, but was a total slacker and was probably being paid like 50K a year to be a baby sitter.

I always warn my teachers that if I am an advocate for a parent and am sitting across the table from them at an IEP, and they are not doing what they should be doing, I will go after them.

But it is when one of my students becomes a babysitter that I really get bummed out. That also happened this semester. One of my student teachers was in this classroom and was literally unable to do the best practices that she was required to do because the teacher was not practicing them. She was frustrated with the placement as was I. But I know that that "master" teacher knows what to do, but must be just too freaking lazy to do what she should. When asked about monitoring student progress, the "master" teacher gave the typical stupid answer that she "knows where each student is." SO if you have a class of 15 students and each one has say 8 objectives, then you are keeping the data on 120 objectives in your head. You see this is simply laziness. But the teacher is friendly and upbeat, and has good intentions so she will get by being nothing more than a babysitter when she should be condemned for being a slacker.

Switching to issues of religious education of persons with disabilities, I remember providing a training on disability ministry to a group of ministry leaders. One woman in the group became very upset, saying "You are too critical! You are being unkind!" Well, if I walked into your ministry at your church, I would celebrate that fact that you have a ministry, in the same manner that I would celebrate that students with severe disabilities have access to a public school education. I don't walk into random ministries or classrooms and criticize what is happening there. However, when I am invited as an evaluator in order to assist in improving things, or I am designated to train people in best practices, good intentions are important, however, I am more interested in best practices. For my own children, I would have rather had a teacher who was grumpy toward them but taught them how to read, or how to write so that when they left the setting they knew how to read or write than to have them in some setting where the teacher had good intentions, but nothing educationally was going on because that teacher didn't care enough to learn about and develop the best practices. Also when confronted with best practices or trained in best practices, they should be embraced, not rejected because they are too hard.

I am happy for good intentions, but I would rather have best practices. Sure, start something just to get it going, but ultimately find out what there is to know about how to best do what you are doing. If you don't care to find out, or find out what you should do and then don't do it, you should expect a certain set of outcomes. As I look at students with moderate/severe disabilities leaving schools with little or no skills, I can only assume that nothing was taught. Bad teachers rely on their perception that nothing can be taught. But I can only assume that if children are in school, someone things they can learn skills. So if they have no skills, then either they were not taught, or the basic assumption that they can learn skills is flawed. The truth is they were not taught!



RosaW said...

I too, have walked into the classroom of lazy teachers. What I believe is the most upsetting is when the teacher does not even attempt to demonstrate good intentions. At that point it is an indication to everyone that they do not care about the purpose of the job and their job has just turned into getting a pay check. If a teacher gets to that point, it is a big indicator that they need to either move schools or do something. However, I can see and understand how a teacher would not want to leave an easy job that requires no effort at all, since it is easy money. If the ultimate goal of the teacher was not to have to put the effort, then why even go to college; fast food or retail would have required less effort. I am not implying anything negative about those jobs; any job is a good job. Here is my point, if you went to school for x number of years and paid so many dollars for that college education, use it. It is not fair to the children, and it is not fair to the good teachers that cannot get a job because a lazy teacher is filling the position.

Anonymous said...

You stated; “It breaks my heart when I see students in these kinds of classes, and breaks my heart even more when teachers that I have trained have regressed to this level.” Referring to teachers who are doing little or nothing in the classroom after getting their credentials. Being a teacher in the classroom myself, I am able to see both sides of this argument. I do not condone this behavior or lack of teaching but I do understand a few things about what may be happening.
One thing that may be occurring is that the teacher comes to the classroom with what they have learned and have been taught; but then is sidelined by what the district and individual school wants. This may occur because the district test scores are down and needs the schools to make changes that are not necessarily in the best interest of the students. In fact, a school may want certain changes in order to raise the individual school’s test scores to look good to the state, in order to get more funding. These are real, inexcusable events that occur all of the time in education.
I am speaking from the standpoint of a general education teacher though, who knows very little about the alternate education of people with disabilities. Referring to your visit where a “master” teacher built 2 and ½ hours of free time into the schedule, I cannot speak intelligently about this. This is not something that I personally understand. When I was under my mentor as a 4th grade teacher, I learned to never have gaps such as this. Learning should always be taking place. It is possible that my judgment is being clouded by my own desire to become a fully certified teacher.
You hit on a valid point in your article. Stating that one of your teachers was willing but unable to do their job because the “master” teacher was not doing what they were supposed to be doing. From speaking with people in this position in the past, happens frequently.
Regarding the “ master “teacher doing things in her head; this should never be done from what I have been taught. Teachers should always have a lesson plan, and should never “wing-it”. This is as you say; “laziness”.
I enjoyed what you stated about grumpy vs lazy. I too am a parent and would much rather have a grumpy teacher who is teaching than one that has good intentions and does nothing. I think that as a teacher, I realize one thing…If a teacher does not enjoy their job, for whatever reason; then they should do something else or there will be no teaching. Only good intentions. Teachers love children I believe, or they would not do what they do for the most part. I think that some things come their way that detaches them which may be a downfall for the students.

Adrian Martinez said...

Reading this post reminds me of why I want to further my education and become a better teacher. I do not want to be that lazy teacher you are writing about. So void of care and creativity that teaching becomes something you do every weekday and thats it. Just being a warm body in the room is not enough. Reading about these lazy teachers makes me wonder what their motivations are for teaching. Were they once sincere? What wore them down? What can I do to make sure that doesn't happen to me? My initial reaction was, "Oh man, they suck. How could they do that to those kids? They should just quit and let someone who cares do it." But like I said, I wonder how easily I myself can resemble or begin to resemble them. If anything, I read this as warning.

I also like that you point out that good intentions only go so far. Again, this is something I need to apply to my own teaching now and in the future. It doesn't matter if I sincerely desire for my students to learn if I am doing very little to reach that goal. Actions are key. Doing, planning, working harder then the day before. Just writing that makes me think... "Wow, this isn't going to be easy." Its not. But of course, it isnt supposed to be. It should be rewarding... but not a cake walk. My students now and Lord willing, in the future, depend on how hard Im willing to work. Gotta remember this.

- Adrian Martinez EDU541 Summer 2010 CBU

Jacob Harrington said...

I find the idea that any classroom would have two and half hours of free time to be atrocious. This time could be used for many, more constructive means, and would never have flown on a daily basis in general education classrooms. While I have never worked in a formal classroom setting where I have had to fill out an entire day, I certainly hope that I would be able too. Some of the activities that the teacher initiated do not sound inherently bad, if used in the proper context with the proper students, but this unfortunately does not seem to be the case. I am curious though if this is something that was eventually brought up to the teacher or the school board. I wonder this because I am curious as to what the schools reaction would be since her desk was covered in awards. If they enjoy this status quo of sitting in circles leading songs, well I may know an unemployed student with a guitar, who is going to be looking for work at the end of the semester. I was also disappointed to read about the master teacher who wasn’t “mastering.” I have had friends go through similar processes and am always shocked at how mixed the results are, and I find that extremely unfortunate.

Nohemi S. said...

I have visited very few moderate/severe special education classrooms; one which caught my attention was a County classroom at a High School in Moreno Valley. The teacher for the severely handicap students has probably been teaching there for 10-15 years.
Her classroom is about 20 ft. wide and 15 ft. long. Most of her students are wheelchair bound and are diapered. The disabilities in her class vary from Down syndrome to Cerebral Palsy. She has about 15-18 students; knowing that you can imagine her classroom structure. When you walk in the classroom, it is even hard to walk because of all the wheelchairs. The task of just taking the students to the buses was time consuming and hard. The time that I was there as a volunteer, I noticed that she tried hard to spend time with each student, but sometimes that was impossible. She did a lot of hand over hand work with them. She would hold their hand as they turned the page in a book, she would hold a tambourine as they sang a song, and would hold a spoon in their hand (for those who where not tube-fed) as they ate. I admired her work, but noticed that it might have been too much for her to handle with only two other Instructional Assistants.
In my opinion, if you are not able to brainstorm new learning activities and accommodate to your student's needs, then you might want to re-think teaching in that area. It is good to have a schedule and a lesson plan, but making it different and interesting every day. Having two to three hours of free time should not even be considered. Where is the education in that?
I also sat in IEP's to translate for parents and noticed that a lot of the parents did not have comments about what they would like their student to learn at school. This frustrated me, not only because they did not suggest anything but also because they would often times refer back to the teacher.

Anonymous said...

While I was reading this one particular classroom came to mind. A severely handicapped class at a high school. I spent at least a good four hours with this class. The whole time I was there not once did any instructional time take place. Whenever the teacher was in the classroom she sat at her desk and the rest of the time she was in and out doing who knows what. The aides did the work. They diapered, fed, and at times interacted with the students. They were babysitters. During lunch time a mainstream student who was a nephew to one of the aides came over to speak with his aunt. He then notices one of the students who did not look well taken care of. She had crust formed around her eyes, snot coming out of her nose, and was eating as the drainage from her nose ran into her food. Well this mainstream boy notices the girl and begins to gag loudly and makes a bit of a scene. The aides instead of cleaning her up or asking the boy to leave begin laughing at the situation and tell the girl to go hug this boy and follow him. Well you can imagine the boy’s reaction. He was gagging loudly with tears in his eyes at how disgusted he was and the aides just laughed and laughed. I could not believe what I was seeing. They did not care to help the girl they just sat back and let her become a joke. This to me was just a taste of how much work needs to be done in order for all kids to receive a true education. Even if there are good intentions laziness should never be an excuse to not get up and do something.

Anonymous said...

The topic of disabled students and their teachers is always a touchy subject. I agree that teachers need to push their students as much as possible because we want to see growth in our siblings or children but so much responsibility is placed on the teacher. I understand that not everyone is meant to be a teacher but that is what the credential program is for, to weed out the weak. If a person is able to pay for school and make it through the year to year and a half long process I believe they deserve to teach but like you said that does not mean they should become stagnant and lazy. They should always look to make improvements. I don't agree with "lazy" teachers but can we consider all teachers who don't push their students to the absolute max a lazy teacher? I don't think so, especially when dealing with disabled students, I understand they are human and just like everyone else but they do learn differently for obvious reasons, this is where I think it is the parents job to help their child. For some students, I think doing puzzles and singing songs is exactly what they need because that is the most entertainment they will get all day because when they get home they will be neglected by their entire family which is more of a tragedy to me then a teacher that wants to "babysit". To me, it is the parents job to find a suitable class for their child. My mom fought tooth and nail for my brother and I believe he has made strides that he would never have made if he went to the area school but my mom did the research to find out where the best school for him would be. Then she would scout out the classroom multiple times so she could see the teacher and how they operated. As I step down from my soapbox (sorry) I would like to restate that I do indeed agree with you that it is not a teachers job to feel they "have arrived" once they get the position but sometimes a little love and energy is what the kids need because they aren't getting it at home. Each case is different but I'm glad you are an advocate of challenging teachers to get better at what they do which will in turn help children with disabilities grow and progress in society.

Anonymous said...

I too am discouraged when people have been given an opportunity to teach and they simply babysit! One of my observations that I did for this class was such an experience where I left completely discouraged. The teacher obviously had no passion for her students, much less for teaching at all. She did not even acknowledge us observing her in the classroom, where most teachers will excitedly come over and explain why they do what they do.
It is very interesting to hear this experienced from your perspective as a trainer of some of these teachers. I think that in order to teach in a special education program, a teacher really has to have a passion for the students they are teaching. I also think it is important as you said to really strive for best practices! Good intentions are worthless if nothing ever comes of them. I found it to be really interesting that you would rather have a grumpy teacher for your children that taught them something rather than having a teacher with good intentions who never took the time to learn what outcomes they should be expected to reach. I never really thought about it in that context but it’s so true. A teacher may provide a pleasant environment for the students, but if they walk away with nothing learned, it was pointless.