No Excuses

No deep policy discussion today, folks.  But I do need to share an interesting (or disturbing, depending on your perspective) story that I heard earlier this week.

As the merriment of commencement commences, a parent went in for an end-of-the-year conference with her child’s teacher.  It was intended to be the typical check-in.  Is my child on track?  Anything to work on before the start of the new school year?  Tips for summer activities?  The usual drill.
In the discussion, the teacher began by focusing on math skills, talking about successes and areas that needed work.  As part of the conversation, the teacher made an off-handed comment.  In reflecting that the student did not enjoy doing a specific math assignment, she noted, “maybe he would do it in Spanish, though.”
Did I mention that the student in question is Hispanic?  No, he’s not ESOL.  He doesn’t work from an IEP.  Doesn’t come from a low-income household.  But his ancestors also did not come over on the Mayflower.  As a result, the teacher’s failure to connect with the student must be a cultural thing.  It must be a language thing.  It can’t be a breakdown in teaching or instruction, it must be a Spanish thing.
If this was the first time the teacher had made such a remark to the parent, it would likely have been dropped, and I wouldn’t be telling the tale here today.  Unfortunately, it seems this isn’t the first comment like this.  A month or so, when reflecting on the same student’s ELA abilities, the same teacher told the parent (albeit the father this time), that the male student’s reading wasn’t quite up to where some of the girls in class were.  So the teacher’s inquiry, “perhaps it is because of the Spanish language at home.”
I’m willing to write this off as an isolated incident from an ignorant teacher.  From my experiences with teachers in the classroom — be it the educators I deal with as part of my business day, those terrific ones I interact with through my school board service, and those who actually taught me — I never heard such comments, nor do I suspect they would even think it.
But I also realize that much of teaching is learned behavior.  The teacher in question asks such questions because she was either taught it, or she has learned it from colleagues or mentors.  She decided to diagnose students without the benefit of data, information, or common sense.  And in trying to justify her own struggles in connecting with a particular student (or class of students), she managed to even inject a little bit of racism into the student evaluation process.
I feel for both the student and the parents in question.  They deserve better, and can just look forward to a new teacher in a new classroom with a new approach and fewer stereotypes come September.  But I feel for those students who will be passing through said teacher’s classroom in the years to come.  Surely, with a rising Hispanic population, this won’t be the last “Spanish” issue in such a class.  And if she is so quick to make such comments with parents (typically protective, even downright helicopterish) who is to say she isn’t making similar comments in the classroom, comments that other students are picking up and using themselves to drive divisions between “us” and “them?”
We should have high expectations for all students … and all teachers.  We tell our students they can’t make excuses for not demonstrating proficiency or not passing the state exams.  We tell parents they can’t make excuses for their kids not attending school or not doing their homework.  And we certainly should tell our teachers that they can’t make excuses — particularly racially discrimenatory ones — when they fail to connect or properly educate a child.
Ningunas excusas.  Debemos esperar mas de nuestros estudiantes, de nuestras familias, y de nuestros maestros.

5 thoughts on “No Excuses

  1. Perhaps the teacher was seeking to mitigate her own feelings of inadequacy –- apologizing for her own shortcomings — because she recognizes her inability to connect through this child’s STRONGEST language. Language is important!!! Would she have said the same for Russian or Vietnamese or other bilingual students?I can see a possibility that this is not a mean-spirited teacher.

  2. I’d like to believe this is not a mean-spirited teacher.  And I’d like to think she was apologizing for her own shortcomings (even though it sounded like she put the blame squarely and solely on the home environment).  But the child in question’s strongest language is English.  He isn’t ESOL.  He doesn’t come from a home where Spanish the predominant language spoken.  He just happens to have a skin shade darker than everyone else in the class. 

  3. You say the child is not ESOL. How ’bout ESL? EFL? EAP? CALL? And the teacher TESOL? TESL? TEFL? EAP? CALL?Did I miss any?Like the parent (and you), I’m interested in what’s real and what’s important.

  4. So let’s see. In this post you have called the teacher “ignorant,” noted that she is unable to “connect” with a student for instruction, accused her of “putting the blame squarely on the home environment.”

    Then you spread out your story to include her teaching mentors and colleagues, saying this is “learned behavior”–this diagnosing without data or information is something that teachers do. Then you call her racist, and suggest that her “similar comments in the classroom” are infecting all the students in her class.

    It seems to me that–given the facts as presented–you are jumping to huge, unwarranted accusatory conclusions.

    Here’s the first question I’d ask: Why didn’t the father say, immediately upon noticing this teacher’s remark about Spanish SAY CLEARLY: “English is his first language. He doesn’t regularly hear Spanish at home.” Doing so would assist the teacher, who was obviously fishing for information to help her teacher this child better.

    None of your conclusions fit the facts of the story. Nor does printing this story here illuminate or move forward the cause of improving instruction.

  5. Nancy, I think you just proved Eduflack’s point. You’re a veteran teacher, right? When presented with this story, you immediately defended the teacher and tried to shift blame over the parent. Take a closer read. He never said the teacher was racist; he said her repeated comments injected racism into the process. You selectively quote “similar comments” to make your point, leaving out that it was positioned in the hypothetical, what if.Teachers are not infallable. For every great teacher there is often a lousy one. There are teachers who make assumptions about their students based on test scores, past grades, skin color, and even the clothes they wear. To improve instruction, we have to be willing to acknowledge some teachers need help.

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