the problem with public school

My son is a Kindergarten student at a Boston Public School. If you know a little about the BPS lottery system, you may think we chose this school (it’s called “school choice,” after all). If you know more than a little about the BPS lottery, you may guess that we ended up at a school we put on our list because it wasn’t horrific.

On paper, it’s a school like many in BPS that should be avoided: frighteningly low MCAS scores, no Advanced Work classes, located in a neighborhood with a high crime rate. Of 12 schools on our list, it was 11th. But with a second child, we simply could not afford another year of preschool. So we made the best of it, and we ended up being thrilled with our transition into public school. Everyone was welcoming, my son made friends quickly, his teacher was the right mix of fun and no-nonsense (I’ve co-opted her saying, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset”), and we found a very involved community of parents committed to improving the school. I thought, “It’s ridiculous that people don’t give public school a chance.”

This year, we’re experiencing first-hand why public schools have such a bad rap. It only takes one bad teacher to ruin a child’s academic experience. It’s a shame to see it happening to children so young, whose excitement about new experiences can so easily be channeled into something positive. Since September, our son says he hates school and thinks reading and writing is boring. I’ve spent time in his classroom to get to the bottom of this. Here’s an excerpt from a letter I sent to the school district administration:

[The teacher] does not appear able to channel the students’ energy in a positive way. She places unreasonable expectations of behavior on her K2 class, and does not give them appropriate direction. On this day, as we were preparing to go, the students were very excited about their field trip, but they were not given an activity to help direct this energy. Instead, they were told to sit on the rug while she told them the rules for how to behave at the aquarium. I saw her become easily frustrated when children spoke up or moved around, she raised her voice, called attention to specific children who were “not behaving,” and sometimes physically restrained or forcibly moved children from one location to another. The constant reprimanding and correction created such a stressful atmosphere in the classroom I had to leave the room, and I felt terrible for the children who face this unpleasantness every day… She also, very unfairly, said to the entire class, “We’re waiting because {children’s names here} did not bring in their permission slips and we have to call their parents.”… I was disturbed to hear her say to one student later in the day, “We’re not here to have fun, we’re here to look at fish.” A teacher, especially of children so young, should not have this perspective about learning.

This was back in October, and the battle goes on. My sad take-away from my attempt to improve my son’s experience thus far, is that there is no such thing as teacher accountability in public schools. She has been teaching fro 25 years. It is impossible to fire a tenured teacher. Instead, they get moved from school to school, affecting the lives and futures of other children. Watch “Waiting For Superman” and get mad like I am.

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