A “bad teacher” named William Johnson talks about the problems we’re having from the other side of the desk.
my job can be extremely difficult. Beyond the challenges posed by my students, budget cuts and changes to special-education policy have increased my workload drastically even over just the past 18 months. While my class sizes have grown, support staff members have been laid off. Students with increasingly severe disabilities are being pushed into more mainstream classrooms like mine, where they receive less individual attention and struggle to adapt to a curriculum driven by state-designed high-stakes tests.
My major frustration with PK’s school—and the district—has been, all along, that I cannot get an honest answer from them about what they can and can’t do for him, so I’ve been left to flounder around asking for accommodations, waiting for a week or four while observations are made (PK: “they’re spying on me!”) and meetings are held, at which some accommodations are agreed to (but not everything I’ve asked for) and also it turns out that this meeting is to discuss that kind of accommodation, but if you want this other sort of thing that’s a totally different topic and we’d need to have another meeting, maybe next month. And I’m sorry but the school psychologist has another meeting on another campus now and will have to leave early. Etc.
And its obvious why things work this way. They can’t be honest about what they can’t do, because they are legally required to provide an appropriate education for every student. Including PK. But they can’t provide an appropriate education for every student, because they don’t have the resources, or the time, or the staffing, or the courses, that would be appropriate for PK (and doubtless many other students) because they don’t have the money to do so and anyway they’re also required to Teach State Standards, which are demanding enough that they can’t wedge in a bunch of other crap like “differentiated curriculum” or “time to look at PK’s ‘proof’ that zero equals infinity and help him work through it to see if it holds water.” (It doesn’t, but it’s remarkably clever nonetheless, for a sixth-grader—and shows that he thinks pretty hard about this math stuff.)
So they can’t say what they can’t do, because that opens them up to a lawsuit; and they can’t make small adjustments without tons of paperwork to put PK into a special category that will force them to make some changes and meanwhile waiting for the paperwork means weeks go by during which PK, who is impatient and immature, becomes increasingly convinced that “they don’t care” and “aren’t doing anything,” and his hostility and alienation get worse and worse.
Part of the problem is bureaucracy, and there are lots of things that can be tried to mitigate that—local control, less regulation, etc—although those things open up the door to older problems, like ignoring kids with learning disabilities or shrugging bullying off and expecting kids to “work it out for themselves.” But a bureaucracy that contains internally inconsistent regulations—especially one without the funds to implement any of those regulations in a timely manner—creates chaos when it’s tested. As long as you don’t push up against the margins, and as long as individual teachers and administrators are willing to work their asses off and occasionally ignore a rule and hope they don’t get called on the carpet for it, most kids will make it through relatively unscathed. But the kids like PK, who will always push at the edges, end up flailing around in the net. With lots of money and time I can extricate him and keep him from drowning. But as a nation it’s unacceptable, wasteful and immoral to treat so many kids as, essentially, bycatch.