Home > Uncategorized > “The Myth of a Hero Teacher” Promotes Blame of ALL Teachers, Avoidance of REAL Problem: Poverty

“The Myth of a Hero Teacher” Promotes Blame of ALL Teachers, Avoidance of REAL Problem: Poverty

February 28, 2016

I just read “The Myth of the Hero Teacher“, the NYTImes article by John Leland that is a de facto book review of Ed Boland’s new memoir, “The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School.” As I’ve written in previous posts, I began my career as a junior high school mathematics teacher at Shaw Junior High School in Philadelphia. One of the lowest performing schools in the city, Shaw was plagued with tensions that resulted from ongoing gang violence in the city in the early 1970s and by overcrowding that led to housing over 3000 students in a split shift plan in a school designed for 1200. In my initial year I floated into over 20 “classrooms” that included a cafeteria, adaptive PE space, a dilapidated science lab where I taught reading after receiving a crash course in the first few weeks of school, and rooms on all three floors of the school. In short, I know the world Mr. Boland inhabited during his first year— and envy him for having only ONE room to fight battles in!

The article describes Mr. Boland’s lack of training in classroom management as the primary problem he faced:

“Of all the hours I was at graduate school, I don’t think there was all together an hour devoted to classroom management,” he said. “We were developing beautifully crafted lesson plans that no one could use. I was learning esoteric phrases about test design. I spent two semesters doing a research project. I just wish somebody told me how to get a cellphone out of a kid’s hand.

My colleagues and I shared the same lament 45 years ago in the faculty room at Shaw Junior High School and I recall having a similar conversation with a colleague in the mid-1990s when we were discussing the need to expand our alternative education program. Like Mr. Boland, I struggled mightily in my first year… but unlike him I got on top of things after Christmas because I had some experience in “managing” students because I worked as a per diem substitute in my senior year in college in Philadelphia schools and because I had an early conference with an Assistant Principal who coached me on the need to set my priorities on classroom management first and the advice from several colleagues who coached me on the use of the overhead projector that enabled me to post work on the blackboard without turning my back on the class.

The ultimate solution advocated in the article, some kind of residency program, would be ideal. Even better would be early intervention to introduce children raised in poverty with the skills needed to engage in learning in the classroom. These ideas, like all of the ideas dealing with educating children raised in poverty, require money… and funding for schools in poor neighborhoods and communities is being slashed. Until we are willing to provide more funds to educate the kinds of students described in this article, the vicious cycle of poverty will continue.

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