Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wise words from a District 150 Board Meeting???

Yes, you read that right. At last Monday's District 150 Board Meeting, one gentleman's voice rose above the fatuous din when he gave a moving dissertation about life today as a teacher in District 150.

As I listened to his speech, my thoughts turned to my own questions about how our children today are raised and treated versus when I was growing up. My initial reaction was to blog to that respect, but after obtaining a copy of Mr. Michael's words, I felt compelled to relay them in their entirety, and save my own retrospective for a future post.

Though the following is quite long for blogging standards, I encourage you to take the time to read through it. He truly makes some excellent points that hit home, and speak to not only the administration, but to teachers and parents as well.

I am anxious to hear your thoughts. Mr. Michael, you have the floor.

"Good evening, and thank you for the opportunity to share my views tonight. My name is Bob Michael and I am a proud graduate of the District 150 school system, having graduated from Calvin Coolidge, Roosevelt, and Manual High School. Believe it or not, my father, a graduate of Lee School, Roosevelt, and Manual, named me Robert Alan Michael so that my initials would pay tribute to the mascot of his alma mater, the Manual Rams.

Some 10 years ago, at age 50, I decided that it was a time in my life to give back to the community and attempt to make a difference in the lives of the young people of this great city. Although I began my teaching career at Loucks Edison, I am currently employed at Columbia Middle School as a physical education teacher, due to the Loucks closing.

I remember quite vividly my first couple of weeks at the helm of my physical education classes at Loucks and it became apparent early on that I was completely unprepared for what I was about to experience. Gone were the days of compliance on the part of many students, as was the concept of respect for authority. This is the reason that I am with you here tonight. My mission is to make you aware of what it is truly like to teach in today’s educational environment… a view from the front lines, if you will.

Decorum prohibits me from telling you of all the vulgarities that have been sent my way over the last nine plus years by many students, by both boys and girls alike. I’ve been called “salty,” “thirsty”, “joe”, “dog”, and occasionally “your ugly bald-headed self.” I realize that whether or not I’m good looking is entirely subjective, but “bald-headed”? I truly have a nice head of hair. Even the simplest requests such as “Please sit down” are often met with a lip smack, an “Oh, my god”, “You get on my nerves,” a low frequency groan, and even an occasional “You ain’t my daddy.”

I literally have to teach my students that the proper response is “Yes, Mr. Michael” or “Okay, Mr. Michael.” With persistence and practice, occasionally my teachings have paid off. I truly understand and appreciate from where many of our students come, but although that may in fact explain their behavior, it certainly doesn’t excuse it. Yet we constantly make excuses for kids rather than teaching them how to behave properly.

In addition, I have been shoved, punched, kicked by students and threatened with bodily harm by more than one parent. In all, this has happened some 10 or 12 times, yet I have been asked to appear in court only once. The other police reports that I have filed have apparently either been lost, forgotten, or simply not pursued.

I had one mother take me to task for calling her son “you” rather than using his name, and as I met with her and my principal, she told me at one point that her husband was going to come to school and “knock me the f--- out.” Once again, I had made a simple request of this young man to please sit on the other side of the gym. As he (eventually) complied, I was able to hear him call me a filthy name. In an effort to get him to speak more respectfully, I told him he could continue in class as soon as he apologized to me. That request was met with another profanity- laced tirade. When my principal got wind of the incident, I was asked why this student was not allowed to continue in the P.E. activities. I stated that he would be reinstated as soon as he apologized.

Unable to get any support from my building administration, I eventually phoned the administration building on Wisconsin, talked to a high ranking official, and was told that the student, in fact, did not have to apologize and should be allowed to be part of the class the next day. Apparently, I was depriving him of his education. He did become, however, educated in the fact that a student can be horribly disrespectful to a teacher and suffer no consequences.

Another time, I had a student say “blank you” in front of the class. I sent him to the office, and as he brushed (literally) by me he made a statement to the effect of “Nothin’ gonna’ happen to me anyway.” Ten minutes later he was back in class with an “I told you so” smirk on his face. Twenty-eight other students learned a valuable lesson that day… it’s okay to cuss at a teacher. What are we teaching our kids?

A few years ago one of my students stole my cell phone from my desk. I was able to retrieve it quickly and the next day was called into the office to meet with her dad. His contention was that since I got my phone back, she should go unpunished. As he stormed out of the room while hurling profanities, he threatened to sue me and the school district as my principal sat speechless.

I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the picture.

Discipline is what I’m talking about here. The longest day of my young school life happened at Roosevelt Jr. High school when I was absent-minded enough to go to school without a belt. I bloused my shirt out over the top of my pants and prayed to God that our principal, one William Burdell “Buck” Smith wouldn’t discover my clothing gaff, a violation that would have sent me home early that day with a call to my parents. “Sorry, Mr. Smith, we’ll be sure that Bob wears a belt tomorrow” my parents would respond. “It won’t happen again.”

Well, I survived that day, and eventually I put an extra belt in my locker, just in case. My behavior had been modified.

Our District in general and some individual schools seem to continually lower the bar in an effort to make kids feel better about themselves. I’ve seen how we can adjust the Honor Roll to accommodate more students, thus rewarding them for sub-standard work. We were told in a faculty meeting once that if a child does nothing that we were to give them a 65%. I guess that a real world application of that premise would allow me to come to school, teach no classes, and receive 65% of my income. That’s a pretty sweet deal, but that’s not how things work.

That has been modified apparently, though, so that now if a student makes even a cursory effort to do an assignment, they are to receive 50%. This latest mandate, it should be known, was put forth by the administration without them being kind enough to extend either the teachers or the union the courtesy of involving them in the decision making process.

In another part of this edict, the grading scale has been lowered across the board ostensibly to allow for more consistent evaluation. For example, previously 93-100% equaled an “A”. It is now 90-100%. Please tell me how this helps kids. I should mention here that studies have shown that over the last twenty years, as grade point averages have remained stable or increased, test scores have continuously declined. In other words the grades are there, but the knowledge isn’t.

Get the picture?

That being said, I’ll submit this to you: today’s kids are no different than they’ve ever been. That should raise a few eyebrows. To paraphrase a quote: “The children of today love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and would rather talk than exercise. Children are now tyrants, not meaningful members of their households. They speak out of turn, gobble up food, and tyrannize their teachers.” By the way, the original quote was attributed to Socrates by Plato a couple of thousand years ago. I maintain that children have remained constant. What has changed is what we allow. Let me say that again… children have remained constant. What has changed is what we allow.

By allowing less aberrant behavior we will be able to once again gain control of our schools. Be mindful, though, that I’m not on a power trip here. I can control my classroom. It’s that I want what’s best for our kids. That’s why I teach. Many of our kids have no boundaries. We can teach them boundaries. Many of our kids lack social skills. We can teach social skills. Our kids have problems with accountability. We can teach them accountability. We cannot, however, teach these important “life lesson” concepts within the current constraints of our district’s discipline policy.

That being said, a wise man once told me “it’s easier to criticize than it is to create.”

Please give us a discipline policy with some teeth. Please empower us, your teachers, to draw a line in the sand and let the children decide whether or not to cross it. And please don’t make the line so vague or so far away as to allow a student to receive over 170 discipline referrals and six suspensions and still be allowed to terrorize the classroom on a daily basis. Yes, I’ve taught that student, and when that same student was given the ultimatum (with two weeks left in the school year) of “one more referral and you’re done for the year” this student, in fact, behaved properly for the remainder of the year and acted as a model student. Some students will still cross the line, and for that reason we need more alternative classrooms.

Recent contract negotiations have involved whether or not we should have a longer school day to increase student performance. For that argument I will offer an alternative. We can help our kids achieve more with a more efficient day rather than a longer day. If each teacher in the district has to spend three minutes per class for discipline, a relatively conservative estimate, then roughly a thousand teachers times six class periods a day times 180 days spend approximately 60,000 hours on discipline. Give us a responsible and workable discipline policy and we will be able to teach more effectively.

A word about P.B.I.S., or Positive Behavior Intervention Support. For those of you who don’t know, part of this program suggests that we give children a sticker or some other token for walking down the hall properly, for example. In other words, we need to reward compliance. Now, I’ve been driving for some 45 years, and not once has a state trooper pulled me over and given me a gold star for going the speed limit. I obey the law because that is what is expected of me. Children need to learn the same.

Yes, today’s kids are being raised, as have the children of the last two generations, under the banner of entitlement. Everybody has to feel good about themselves. Every soccer player gets a trophy. We reward children for coming to school. Well guess what, kids are supposed to come to school. And guess what, life doesn’t reward us for compliance. Extrinsic rewards work for the short term. Intrinsic rewards build character and allow us to be successful in the long term.

In closing, I guess I’m grateful that little Tommy Edison didn’t get a gold star for trying his hardest to invent the light bulb and failing on his first try. He may have in fact given up and we’d be in the dark here tonight even more than we already are."


  1. All I can say is, WOW. This man hit the nail on the head. I would like to shake his hand and thank him personally for standing up and saying that.

  2. Yes, Amy, the Powers that be in D150 seem to spend a lot of time lamenting on why our kids cannot learn instead of demanding and expecting that they DO learn. The constant disrepect for decorum, teachers and staff that is tolerated by the Administration at multiple levels must stop before families will once again consider D150 a good option.

  3. I did my novice teaching at Loucks and couldn't believe the behavior that was allowed. There was one week where all the teacher did was discipline, no teaching. My primary job was not in the classroom but walking students down to the office where they were sent right back up to class. I now sub in Princeville and after a challenging day with Kindergartners who were not being rude just disruptive, their aide told the teacher about their behavior and both the teacher and principal talked to them so that it wouldn't happen again, and it didn't. NO teacher is perfect but they have to be given the chance to teach, without disruptions.

  4. This is just unbelievable. Well, actually believable. District 150 gets a bad rap more often than not, but to hear a teacher, someone on the front lines, come forward with these personal experiences is mind blowing. I am a firm believer that no teacher, principal, administrator, or counselor is able to help teach BASIC acceptable behavior in or out of the classroom. So many of these kids come from home environments where no one is in charge, personal responsibility is
    absent, and a simple "do what you can to survive" is the golden rule.

    District 150 is failing as a district because so many of its students are coming from families who are failing to adequately raise their children. Why doesn't this get more emphasis in the press? The kids which the teacher described are not "bad." They are products of parents or relatives or guardians who don't provide, set limits, offer consequents, or teach any type of social norms through their own behaviors. How on earth are these kids, who represent this district, supposed to succeed when their basic needs aren't being met? When schooling means so little? When there is so little respect for themselves and their families that teachers are just a prime target who interfere in their lives and dare to attempt to get them to better themselves?

    The bottom line, which is not politically correct or even talked openly about, is that these very kids who we read and talk about will most likely "see the light" with even the most well intentioned teacher. As most things, it all begins at home and until parents are able and willing to take the reigns and parent, of course their kids are going to fail not only in school but in society.

    Teachers deserve more credit, pay, and respect for putting up with is sometimes a very uphill battle. District 150 teachers, in my experience, are dedicated, involved, and on the kids' side but without parental involvement and backing, they can only do so much.

  5. One of the things that I didn't have enough time to mention in my speech is that we need more parental involvement within District 150. In my opinion, the adults in our students' lives should be held accountable as well when it comes to positively influencing the lives of our kids. That being said, I've had enough involvement with parents and guardians to know that many of them are as frustrated as we the teachers are. One of my recommendations is to offer parenting classes for our students' caregivers. It has been tried on a small scale and has been relatively successful. More on that later.
    Bob Michael

  6. Amy,thanks for posting that. I didn't get a chance to watch the meeting but heard wonderful things about Mr. Michael's speech. Kudos to him for sharing his experience.


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