Whenever I read about students disrupting classrooms, I lose all hope for public education (“The Myth of the Hero Teacher,” The New York Times, Feb. 28). The latest example involves Ed Boland, who wrote The Battle For Room 314 (Grand Central Publishing, 2016).
Boland quit his job as executive for Prep for Prep, a nonprofit that places minority students in elite private schools, to teach ninth-grade history at Henry Street School for International Studies in the New York City system. He believed that he could make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged students. He attributes his failure to his lack of classroom management skills. I say it was because of his naivety.
Hollywood would have everyone convinced that dedicated teachers whose hearts are in the right place can overcome the adversarial relationship that exists in so many public-school classrooms. The script is familiar: Teacher initially encounters hostility from students but slowly wins them over through heroic efforts. I don’t doubt that such a scenario occasionally plays out, but it is an aberration.
Which leads me to classroom management. The term essentially means there is a list of practices that if followed will make classrooms places for learning. Anyway, that’s the theory. When I was a lecturer at the UCLA Graduate School of Education, I taught Curriculum and Instruction in Secondary Schools, one of three courses required for a California teaching credential at the time. I devoted a considerable bloc of instruction to classroom management, but stressed that nothing can fully prepare new teachers.
Boland maintains that his students were not to blame. He’s partly right. When students trash learning and disrespect teachers, their parents have failed to perform their duty. Poverty is usually cited as the cause, but I had students from the most impoverished backgrounds whose parents instilled in them the importance of education. As a result, they were a pleasure to have in class. Conversely, I had students from affluent families who deserved to be expelled.
When parents are involved in their children’s education, the likelihood is that classroom management skills will not be needed. There is simply no excuse for allowing the kind of misbehavior that permeates so many schools. Until parents do their job, there is little hope that the best college graduates will choose teaching as a career.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.