What it is Like to Teach in Failing Schools: A Memoir, an Inquiry and a Critique (2016)
by A. Teacher
Even without the students present, a visitor familiar with middle-class White schools would notice that Atlanta’s “Fairfield Junior Academy” is different. Walking the halls he would observe that there were no lockers. “[W} e moved all the lockers into the classrooms because most of the fights and drug deals took place during transition time when students went to their lockers” (76). If the visitor was unfortunate enough to need the restroom, he might see “dried diarrhea on the walls and toilet in the bathroom stalls” (111). Venturing into a classroom he might encounter vandalized computers and locked file cabinets that had been broken into.
As the subtitle indicates, this book is part a memoir, part a scathing critique of the educational establishment that some call Big Ed. This reviewer has twenty years’ experience in secondary and tertiary education. Fortunately, I have not experienced many of the problems the author relates, at least not to the same degree. Thus some of the dysfunction A. Teacher (AT) describes is particular to his type of school — a failing junior high — while other problems are systemic and likely to be experienced by most public school teachers in America.
The reader might conclude from the opening paragraph that Fairfield in one of those neglected, underfunded minority schools one hears about. While it is a non-White school (70 percent Black, 27 percent Hispanic), it is not underfunded. “Our school was flushed with money” (12). There was plenty of technology — computers, iPads, smartboards, and printers in every room. There was also widespread theft and vandalism, plus poor maintenance of the facility.
American education is often top heavy with administrators. This is particularly true of urban schools. So, in addition to student misbehavior, a major complaint of Mr. Teacher was the reams of paper work and endless meetings his position required. These demands left little time for lesson planning, and made classroom management more difficult. Because every behavior issue needed to be thoroughly documented it was less likely a teacher would take action.
One way a bureaucracy insulates administrators from day to day problems is the put-it-in-writing strategy. A “Response to Intervention” form was required “to document every infraction a child commits, complete with where the incident took place, what preceded the incident, what the infraction entailed, and the consequences that followed” (89). Even with documentation teachers at Fairfield felt the administration did not support their efforts to maintain order. Read more