“What do you mean by bad kids?” “Are the kids really bad or does the teacher’s classroom management need work?” “It’s not fair that most kids characterized as ‘bad’ are boys.” “If we separate the bad kids from the good kids, won’t that be considered ‘tracking’ and isn’t ‘tracking’ bad?”
These questions and comments are fair, and should be encouraged as intellectual debate surrounding the proper education of our children.
Let me set a scene for you, a scene that I see too often and that has been bothering me more than usual lately.
There are 35 students in a class. Fifteen (15) students are reluctant learners, have poor work habits, and are below grade level academically, but are generally pleasant kids, capable of following directions with some coaxing, and capable of succeeding and being inspired with the urgings of a good teacher. Seven (7) students have special needs and have a wide variety of abilities, needs, and desires related to their educations. Ten (10) students have incredibly strong work habits, and an incredible degree of resilience, high classroom abilities and desire to learn. Three (3) students come to school with no intention of learning, receive little or no academic credit due to poor grades, have long records of violence against students and staff, frequently cause disruptions that make it difficult for other students to learn, and are often engaged in illegal activity.
These are the ‘bad’ kids.
Let me be clear. I’m not talking about the kids that can’t sit still, are often distracted, occasionally get in fights, question authority, or have poor manners. Those kids typically fall into the other 15. The ‘bad’ kids are the ones that consistently jeopardize the physical and educational safety of those around them while providing little benefit to the classroom environment. These students are not necessarily criminals, but many have been socialized to view destructiveness as the acceptable.
Imagine this class is in a large urban school district. 90% of the students are of a minority background. 90% of the students receive free or reduced meals. In a noble effort to ensure that no student is pushed aside, the district’s policies restrict the ability to suspend students or to move students from one school to another.
My guess is, I have painted a picture familiar to many teachers who teach in the schools of our nation’s biggest cities. The question every one of those teachers has is, as I have already posed, “what do we do with those three students?” The answer should be, “do everything we can to inspire them to learn and reduce their negative impact on the other students”
This picture looks similar to one that I see every day. I will admit that I spend a lot of time with my ‘bad’ kids. I spend considerable time in class, keeping them on task, from touching other students, reminding them of the rules, and pushing them to try to pass my class, in hopes that a taste of success could inspire them to strive for more. I do all of this at the expense of the other 32 students, who, sometimes with or without their hands raised, may have questions that could be the gatekeeper between them understanding a concept or not. These questions often go unanswered because my time is spent keeping three students from causing considerable damage to my classroom and other students.
Since I started teaching, I have often put up with the complaints and the frustrated looks of those ten exceptional students when they can’t learn because the three bad kids would rather yell, curse, or turn instructional materials into projectiles. My heart has always gone out for them because I can’t push them to achieve everything they are capable of unless I completely divert my attention away from the ‘bad’ kids. We all know this is not a safe option for anyone. Lately, however, I have been noticing the same frustrated looks from the less exceptional students. Those that are likely not resilient enough to succeed without the help of an encouraging teacher. They too are frustrated because they are forced to sit in classrooms with a few students that have no desire to be in school other than to ruin the educations of others. The frustration of these students has been devastating to my morale.
So what are we to do with the ‘bad’ kids?
It is difficult to suspend them and hard to move them to other schools, and even if we did that, though it would save the other kids who would now have a class of 32, it wouldn’t create a long term solution to the problem. We can’t give up on any child, even the ‘bad’ ones. Every child has the right to a quality education.
Does a child have the right in pursuit of a quality education to take away that right from his/her fellow students?
I don’t know the answer, but the question bothers me everyday.