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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sabotaging Their Own Success


I have begun to read a book that is based on an interesting premise.  How Children Succeed by Paul Tough seems to posit the idea that children experience success in school, college, and life because of the character traits they develop (or don't develop) that include things like patience, goal-setting, deferred gratification,  and perseverance.  These traits he seems to think are even more important than the skills we try to teach them at and earlier and earlier age.

I have just begun to read the book and will make further reports on it as I work through it, but I can see much sense in what he has said by the experience I have had in my own classroom. The main problem I seem to have in trying to help them learn what they need to know in order to succeed in school is their seeming inability to focus on the simplest tasks with distracting themselves through their behavior.  They will talk to each other, tease each other, grab at each other, and if I don't constantly monitor them, throw things at each other (including coins).  At times, I spend the majority of time in class and the majority of my energies in managing the class rather than teach them reading, writing, and thinking. My students succeed only in sabotaging their own success.

I know that I am supposed to "engage" them in learning, meaning that I, not they, are responsible for functioning classroom.  I also am supposed to set classroom behavior and policy and have my students adhere to it.  However, I have never felt that my efforts have yielded the result that these young people need to maximize their future success. 

I am not alone in this.  More and more teachers in urban schools are abandoning chaotic classrooms for school districts where their efforts have a greater chance of succeeding. We are experiencing alarming teacher shortages in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa school districts. At Centennial where I teach, we have a teacher turnover that reaches near 50% of our faculty each year.  Each year we are unable to fill vacancies in our core classes of English language arts, science, math, and social studies, and the students in those classes are "taught" by long-term substitutes who are able to do little more than babysitting thus compounding the problem should any teacher be found willing to take responsibility for their education.

I am looking forward to what Mr. Tough has to say on this matter, even more anxious to see if he has any solutions that I can implement.  

If anyone has any ideas on what I could do, I am more than willing to listen and learn.

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