Sit Down and Shut Up

I went to a high-performing charter school to become a better teacher. Instead I learned how to silence and punish kids.

Editor’s note: the following piece was written by a charter school teacher whose request for anonymity I honored. Leave comments or email them to me at jennifer@edushyster.com and I’ll pass them along. 

It’s sexy to be *woke* right now. Some schools are infusing social justice into their curricula, while others are scaling back on harsh discipline practices. At an individual level, an increasing (and still too small) number of people—including a growing number of teachers, most of them young—are posting pictures and statuses on social media about how #BlackLivesMatter.

seth-tobocman.jpg (750×199)I’m no exception. Indeed, this growing movement has had a profound impact on the way I view my role as the white teacher of all students of color. I know it’s vital that I’m aware of the cultural differences between me and my students. I want to show them amazing literature by authors who look like them and expose them to new perspectives. I’m aware of the disparate manner in which discipline is applied at schools along racial lines. I don’t want to contribute to that disparity, or to the school-to-prison pipeline.  In a recent meeting led by teachers of color at my school, I excitedly engaged in a conversation about a cartoon that juxtaposed a white officer yelling at a black man against a white teacher yelling at a black child.

But I have a confession to make… Continue reading →

In an Effort to Keep Our Kids Safe, We May be Silencing Their Voices

Parent and early childhood educator Jamila Carter warns that the emphasis on strict discipline and control in urban schools can stifle kids’ creativity and natural desire to learn…

By Jamila Carter

Philadelphia mom and early educator Jamila Carter.

Philadelphia mom and early childhood educator Jamila Carter.

There is a sentiment among some folks in the black community that teaching our children respect for authority through strict discipline will save them from falling victim to violence, jail or being killed at the hands of the police.

Historically, black parents, especially those of us in low-income communities have often used strict discipline coupled with love and support as a means to protect our children. So I’m not surprised when I hear of parents who welcome the *no-excuses* discipline methods employed at some urban schools.

The belief is that because of the color of our skin there is no room for mistakes, and in the real world we may not get a second chance. Therefore, the training ground for this dismal reality should extend to the classroom.

I understand why many parents feel the need to use discipline to protect their children, but I reject this notion in the classroom. I certainly believe that classrooms must be safe and orderly and that students must face consequences for misbehaving in order to maintain a healthy and productive learning environment. However, the emphasis on order and discipline, especially in urban schools where children of color are the majority, can be demeaning to students and their families. It can lead to a style of classroom management that excludes one of the key elements of education: engaging children. It may also give parents the false notion that strict discipline is the driving factor in their child’s educational success. Continue reading →

We Don’t Have to Suspend So Many Kids—But Alternatives Cost $$$$

Alternatives to *no excuses* discipline exist, but they don’t come cheap….

Corey 2 By Corey Gaber
The typical *woke* person’s evaluation of the behavior management landscape is that we suspend and expel too many kids. We suspend more than 3 million students a year, twice the level of suspensions in the 1970s. And we suspend kids for less and less severe actions, most famously in no-excuses charter chains, for doing things like singing Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror in the Cafeteria. As has been well documented, we teachers and administrators issue consequences in a racially-biased manner. 

But removing a student from school rarely benefits the student. In fact it often hurts their long term academic prospects. They miss valuable class time and teacher support, which puts them in a tough position to catch up whenever they do return. They often harbor feelings of resentment, embarrassment, and/or confusion about the suspension, combined with their academic falling behind can lead to further acting out. Finally, suspension is unlikely to address the root problem that led to the behavior in the first place. Continue reading →

An Open Letter to Teachers and Staff at No Excuses Charter Schools

The former dean of students at a New Orleans charter school urges teachers and staff at No Excuses schools to ask some hard questions about the model’s social and emotional costs…

By Ramon Griffin

Dear You:

no excuses chalkboardYou were selected to teach at your school because of your intelligence, spunk, tenacity, vigor and, most of all, your passion for public education. You are a risk-taker. You have a can-do attitude with swag to match. You believe that every child has the capacity to achieve academically and are committing your life to ensuring that you affect change in every student you encounter. Your dedication to ensuring that traditionally marginalized students receive a first class education is commendable. But do you know how much power you hold? Do you truly understand the *No Excuses* school culture that you are part of? Do you know the psychological and emotional costs that the No Excuses model has on students of color? Furthermore, do you care to know? Continue reading →

All I Really Need to Know I (Should Have) Learned in Kindergarten

Are no-excuses charter schools setting kids up to struggle later by pushing academic skills too hard, too soon? 

By Emily Kaplan
backpack-schoolThe very youngest children at the charter school at which I taught all start their nine-hour school day in the same way: by reciting the school “creed.”

“I AM A…SCHOLAR,” the two hundred children chant. The principal weaves among the tables, making sure that the children “track” her by turning their heads in accordance with her movement. One child lets out a giggle. He is immediately sent to the Silent Area.

I HAVE THE POWER TO DETERMINE WHO I AM, WHO I WILL BECOME, AND WHAT I DO IN LIFE. They point their thumbs to their chests, extend their arms, and stack their fists in unison. I WILL STAY FOCUSED ON ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE. 

I notice that one of my second-grade students is wearing one neon green sock, in stark defiance of the dress code. I am contractually obligated to order him to take it off or to send him to the dean. I smile and look away.

I WILL MAKE SMART CHOICES BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT MYSELF, MY TEAMMATES, AND MY COMMUNITY. 

I turn my attention to the table of kindergartners next to me. They’re my favorite to watch, these tiny children who haven’t yet learned to be predictable.

Most mouth the words obediently: TODAY IS A STEP ON MY PATH TOWARD SUCCESS! On cue, their little fists shoot into the air.

The principal smiles and returns to the front of the cafeteria. Ignoring the group of children sitting stone-faced in the Silent Area, she announces that we’re about to sing a catchy song about self-determination.

But I am giggling. The kindergartner next to me didn’t say “path to success.” He said “path to recess.” Continue reading →