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.