Among the education news outlets funded by Gates and others who try to push the slowly dying education reform agenda Chalkbeat is one of the better ones. Unlike The74 or Education Post, Chalkbeat does often try to be balanced and they have Matt Barnum on staff who is one of the smartest education writers out there.
So I was annoyed when I saw this interview recently published called “This teacher had a student tell her she wasn’t ‘fun.’ Here’s what that taught her about inequity.”
If you are up for it, you should read the entire interview yourself — it speaks for itself. But I’ll summarize it here with analysis.
The basic premise is that Angelique Hines a first year TFA teacher placed in a brand new charter school in Tennessee is featured in a series of interviews by Chalkbeat called “How I Teach.” The premise of the interview series, according to Chalkbeat is “Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask educators who’ve been recognized for their work how they approach their jobs.” So already there’s an issue of whether Hines is really an educator who has been recognized for her work. She has been teaching for 9 months in a brand new charter school that has no track record at all.
One thing we do know is that her students can sit with their hands folded in front of them in a very obedient way.
So the article explains its title. Hines speaks about how a student said he misses his old school because that school was much more fun. One example of how the old school was more fun, he says, is that in the old school they watched more movies.
From this exchange, Hines makes a lot of assumptions about the school that the student came from and about the charter school at which she works. She believes that since learning can be hard work, being called ‘not fun’ is a compliment. It means the student is learning, and that the fun he was having at his old school meant that he wasn’t learning.
But students can learn and have fun at the same time when done right. Now I wasn’t at the old school. She wasn’t either, and Chalkbeat Tennessee certainly didn’t take the opportunity to investigate what school that student came from and whether or not that school performed well on the various accountability metrics that Tennessee is known for. Also, there is no research or speculation about how frequently they watch movies at the old school and what the purpose of those movies are. And students sometimes remember things like watching a movie and how fun it was and they will, in their memories, think that the fun activity was a lot more frequent than it actually was. Every year I show the amazing animated movie ‘Flatland’ about what happens when two dimensional creatures learn about the third dimension and what that might mean about the fourth dimension. The movie is only 30 minutes long and at the end of the year when I survey the class about what some of their favorite times in the class were, there are always a few students that mention ‘Flatland.’
But Hines knows that the old school did not teach which is why the student felt it was fun and she is teaching which is why she is not fun to this student. These are the kinds of assumptions that TFA trains their recruits to think. I remember my first year when I was teaching some overly complicated and underly planned lesson and my students getting very confused and frustrated and I remember telling my TFA friends later that day, “These students aren’t used to a teacher trying to get them to really think.” I now know how wrong I was — I just wasn’t a good teacher then.
A kind of predictable and amusing part of the interview is where Hines explains about how in the beginning of the school year there was a boy who was late nearly every day.
At the start of the year, I had a student who was always late for school. Every day he came strolling in at 8:15 [or] 8:20 a.m., and I would always think to myself “Why can’t parents get their kids to school on time?”
I never thought about the challenges his family must be facing; I only made assumptions. One day, I was talking to my school leader about it, and I was told to call home. When I did, his mother revealed to me that she had 5 kids who all went to different schools, and she talked about the difficulty of getting them all to school. I also learned that he had responsibilities to his siblings. This included ensuring his younger siblings got to school before he did.
I made a promise to myself to always assume the best, to understand the challenges that our families may face, and to never write a narrative [of] a situation before I inquire. My school leader and I partnered with the family, and we worked out a way where the bus could come closer to where he lived, so he could make the bus in the mornings. He has not been late since.
This is the cinematic “The kid I saved” story. So the mother had five kids all going to different schools. Of course this is a consequence of Tennessee’s school choice program championed by TFA alum and former Tennessee commissioner of education Kevin Huffman. And all those factors that made it so difficult for the student to get to school on time, like his responsibilities to help with his siblings, those were all fixed by having the bus come closer to where he lived. And of course “He has not been late since” — if that’s not a lie than some of the other stuff was lies.
I’d rather hear a genuine story about helping a kid get to school on time more frequently and even though he still is late from time to time, we don’t penalize him for it knowing he has a special situation that makes it impossible to never be late.
This is an article about a heroic first year TFA teacher at a charter school who is countering the failing nearby public school that does nothing but show movies. This entire narrative is based on a kid saying that his old school was more fun because they showed more movies. And considering this is a first year teacher who has no results yet to suggest how effective she actually is and it is a first year charter school which also has no results yet, I think this was incredibly irresponsible of Chalkbeat to feature this teacher in this series. It is an example of public school bashing combined with TFA and charter school propaganda.
If you can stomach it, read the interview and let me know in the comments what you think.