"I have a mind like a steel... uh... thingy." Patrick Logan's weblog.

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Friday, April 11, 2003

People Making a Difference: The Lives of Good Public School teachers

I made a couple of cynical comments in response to Philip Greenspun's attitude toward public schools and a friend of his who seemed to be shrinking away from minor hardships, while others are overcoming more significant ones every day. Another participant asked me to clarify my position. I did so constructively rather than cynically, and copy my response here.

What's the problem?

This story is unmotivating.

There are a lot of problems with public schools. The best people, including teachers, are trying to fix them, and are having success here and there.

My wife works in the public schools, and will be receiving her masters degree in education in a couple of weeks. She's worked in ESL (English as a Second Language) and still chooses to work in Title I schools (generally not well off, a lot of parents have many problems of their own).

Does she get frustrated? She doesn't show it much. The stories she tells are about the kids and the conditions under which they struggle to learn: the worst are dirty, undernourished, unaccepted by their peers, unsupported by their parents.

Most of the stories she tells are about how well *every* *single* *one* of them responds to the creative ways she and others reach out to them. Poetry lessons that get kids who can hardly write creating the most amazing pieces of work. (I've read many... you wouldn't believe them.) Science lessons with worms that spark their imaginations. School nurses who creative games with soap, deoderants, etc. to get kids to clean themselves up without embarrassing them or lecturing them or their parents. Teachers who supply parties for the birthdays of kids whose parents can't afford it... but they don't let on to anyone that the parents did not do so themselves. Teachers who also show up at the doors of these kids to bring them birthday presents (because they really know they could use a new shirt!)

I know I don't have the skills to do what my wife does, and other people like her. She should be making three times my salary.

You get the idea. Public schools don't need people like Philip's friend, and middle class students certainly don't need to "learn how to obey" so called privileged "leaders" like Philip Greenspun.

Do you think that there are people worse off than this writer and nobody should be allowed to complain if there are people worse off than them?

I hardly see anything unsurmountable in Philip's post. She has the right to complain, but there are far worse problems that better teachers are overcoming every day. Let's write about those people and learn from them.

Do you think that these are actually quite good conditions for someone to work under. So, once again, no right to complain?

Like I wrote above, I've heard far worse that were made better. It does no good to complain to Philip Greenspun. I call that whining. I'd rather hear how she made a difference, but I see no evidence she has the skills for that. Maybe she can teach math to bright kids. Who couldn't?

Do you hate the public school system so much that you rejoice in it's falling apart? And try to denigrate anyone who complains about it's state?

No. Instead I celebrate those who overcome obstacles and make *big* differences in the individual lives of less fortunate kids.

I am in awe of the people who can and do accomplish meaningful things in the public schools. I couldn't. But I can't indulge whining like what we've seen here.

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Portland, Oregon, United States
I'm usually writing from my favorite location on the planet, the pacific northwest of the u.s. I write for myself only and unless otherwise specified my posts here should not be taken as representing an official position of my employer. Contact me at my gee mail account, username patrickdlogan.