Letter from a teacher

I hope you’ll read this. From a NJ teacher commenting on Bob Herbert’s column:

As a teacher in a low income, mostly white, school district, ‘the poor’ are not an abstract concept to me; they are my students. I see first hand what poverty does and it’s not just – as the wealthy imagine – give you less money. My students are homeless, sleeping on benches. My students have arrest records, from blowing things up or burning things down. Their parents are in jail, or abandoned them, or they abuse them, or – on the other side of the spectrum – they work three shifts. The kids are poorly fed and poorly supervised. They don’t sleep properly and are often up until 3:00 playing some video game. They should be on medication but their parents can’t afford it; recently my student with Bipolar disorder came in off the wall, late, with no explanation why. Her mom had apparently abruptly taken her off of her medication because she ‘didn’t like the side effects’ and now they’re searching for another doctor to prescribe another medication (this is what she says) and ‘that might take a few weeks.’ For some reason, this is a common story in the school–parents taking their kids off medication abruptly with no transitional plan. I don’t know why. But it’s horrible for the kids. Of course many kids don’t have health insurance and medication is expensive, so there are many kids who can’t take ADHD medication when they need it badly, or have migraines (a very common occurrence) but take ibuprofen, or have asthma. Many families (not all) don’t value college and their goal is for their child to graduate high school; a D- is fine. This is stated point blank. And it’s true, if your goal is either to just graduate or to go to community college, which after all, is all they can afford.

Our school, based on their very low property taxes, is literally falling apart. We have rat, mice and cockroach infestations, no supplies, no technology other than ten year old computers. The room is freezing right now (heat is very poor–cold air comes out of the vents!) and in May it’ll be boiling hot–no air conditioner or fans, no circulation.

This is poverty.

The kids look around and say, “We suck.”

This is the message they get, all the time, at home, at school.

Our wealthy politicians abandon them with their top-down slogan-based attack on teachers, as though threatening and bullying us will somehow magically get the kids to perform better on corporate tests (as if the tests matter, but that’s another story). As if we teachers are not already in the trenches and we need to be whipped to do our job–that’s the wealthy approach: ignore the very existence of poverty, ignore the very serious effects of poverty, which are global, and pretend that all we need to do to solve the problem is threaten to fire teachers. Yes, that’ll eradicate poverty and its impact. Their other solution is to pull out the cream of the crop, the ones without arrest records and without violence, with parents who feed them and are able to get them medication, and put them in a privately funded charter, spending far more per child than we can, and then, IF they do better (many don’t) they tout this as some sort of solution. Um….what about the unlovely poor? What about them? What about the students I teach?

We cannot ignore poverty or pretend there are easy quick fixes such as threatening teachers (of all people). This is a very, very serious issue with enormous repercussions. Poverty is a host of problems, not merely ‘no money.‘ It’s difficult to read that Mr Obama has hired yet another Corporate/Wall Street insider to stand at the helm. Surely there are bright people who haven’t worked in either Chicago politics and/or worked on Wall Street. The media – besides you, Bob- very often abdicates its responsibility. Yesterday it reported glowingly on what a hard worker this guy is. Wow. And there are no other hard workers out there? To illustrate how hard a worker he was, they said they could ask him a question at 4:00 am because he was awake and at work. Well, I’m awake and working at 4:00 am, and my poor students are awake all the time. And the ones with functional parents who work three shifts–well, they know the meaning of ‘hard work.’ I’m disgusted by our politicians of both stripes and their race to plutocracy and abandonment of their duty to most of the nation as civil servants.

5 thoughts on “Letter from a teacher

  1. Make the politicians go to Walmart, and watch the people come in to do their grocery shopping at midnight. Of course, they’ll just complain because those bad poor people buy chips. Nobody asks pols what they spend their food money on. Make the pols watch the men in their forties limp around the store, from having been working on their feet for forty, forty-five, fifty hours in a week for twenty, twenty-five years. Make the pols go to these people and tell them to their face why they won’t be able to retire at 65. Make them go explain why they’re so much better because they wear a suit.

    Make them go look at these people.

    Make them go talk to the survivors of a fire caused by a faulty furnace, in a town where the landlords sit on the board for rental regulations. Make them look at living in an apartment where a bedroom is defined as having enough room for a bed and a door that closes, where heat is regulated by opening your window – and then your rent goes up because heating costs have gone up.

    Make them drive around in a car with no muffler and the headlights held on with wire. Make them go live in a highrise with people who don’t take their meds often enough.

    Make them come look at the bottom of a friend’s foot, the one with the two-inch hole in the bottom, the one that’s gonna get cut off, the one that keeps him up all night with the pain. Pain that he can’t get meds for, because he makes too much on disability to be eligible for Medicare, and Medicaid won’t kick in for another year and a half. Yeah, he’ll show up in an emergency room with gangrene one of these days. He’ll get his leg whacked off for that, and then bye-bye. I wonder if he’ll even get a wheelchair out of the deal.

    Make them come look at that.

  2. I hope Bob Herbert reads that letter. As much as I usually love what he has to say, he has written some dumb stuff about education. He appears to be pretty well snookered by the education deform movement. This is a wonderful rebuttal to that propoganda.

  3. …put them in a privately funded charter, spending far more per child than we can…

    I’m in Oklahoma, and our charter schools receive the exact same amount from the state that other public schools get. In fact, your public school should get more, because they receive funds from both from property taxes, and Title I, while charter schools are ineligible for those funds. Regardless, our charters are still significantly more successful. This is true in many states.

    The rest of your post was great, but I did want to specify that this funding issue is not an issue with charter schools, but an issue with your state’s funding choices.

  4. What money and incentive to what? Not that it really matters, because this is what I’m responding to:

    “Their other solution is to pull out the cream of the crop, the ones without arrest records and without violence, with parents who feed them and are able to get them medication…”

    Most of our state’s charters are not allowed to ‘pull out the cream of the crop’. They must accept all comers on an equal basis. A few of them, such as Classen SAS, which is an arts-based school, are allowed to audition students, but not to pick on the basis of past performance or income.

    “…and put them in a privately funded charter, spending far more per child than we can, and then, IF they do better (many don’t) they tout this as some sort of solution.”

    None of our charters get more money than the brick-and-mortars that they are compared to. As I stated above, they actually get less money and still out-perform their traditional counterparts. Which is my point.

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