As I said in an earlier post, I am not sure if the teaching techniques and curriculum should be tailored to urban students, whether this is a form of racism or sensitivity. I’m listening and learning from teachers who know far more than I do. I worry about the danger of segregated schools and segregated learning styles. But I have heard the horror stories for years about teachers who couldn’t control their classrooms and about disruptive students and students who insult the teacher and think they are heroes for doing so. Back in the 1950s, the disorderly kids were white (think “Blackboard Jungle”). Now they are more likely to be kids of color. Affluence tends to bring decorum in its wings, regardless of race or gender or other factors. One seldom hears of unruly students at Choate or Exeter.

This teacher wants to set the record straight about the differences teaching in different communities:

Diane said: “I understand the importance of classroom management. So does every teacher. The question though is whether a militaristic approach is appropriate or necessary, and whether children who are poor and minority “need” an approach that is militaristic. I don’t know the answer. I worry about having one kind of school for poor black kids and another kind of school for white suburban kids. Should schools for the former be boot camps and schools for the latter be rich with the arts and inspiration? That’s why I am interested in the responses of experienced teachers.”It is more complicated than that.

I teach in Bridgeport CT– one of the epicenters of the failing schools/ ethnic and economic minorities/ privatization efforts. One issue in largely minority schools taught by mostly white teachers who come from out of town (as in many Connecticut urban schools) is that teachers unconsciously permit and expect worse behavior, lesser efforts and lower achievement because that is their expectation of inner city youth.

What I saw as a teacher in New York was different– most teachers went to those schools, even if they now commute in from Long Island. No matter the divide of race, the teacher tended to believe that the students could achieve, just as they did when they were in the NYC schools.

This is not so in smaller cities whose minority residents are so culturally divided from the educated teaching corps who come in to the city to teach.

My solution to this as a teacher has been to be a little bit like the teacher described in your excerpt. But strictness MUST be applied with deep respect and understanding of the students. Content mastery, enthusiasm, respect for dignity, and positivity are essential, but I do not think that teachers’ decades-long slide from a position of respect and authority in the classroom has been a good thing for our nation’s schools.

As an historian of education, you must be aware of this change– I see it as the pendulum swinging too far away from authority (which has definitely been abused by teachers in the past, and still is by some) towards — I can’t find a word for it– lassitude and helplessness.

The ideas of community in the classroom and mutual respect developed in the second half of the 20th century can also be taken too far. The answer is in the middle. Authority tempered with real respect for students. Decisiveness with a willingness to hear other opinions and change one’s mind or admit mistakes.

I must teach differently in Bridgeport than I would in Greenwich or in the Upper East Side private school where I began my career. The social complexities involved in ensuring that this is done with fairness and sensitivity are staggering.

The fact remains, though, that there are these differences. When privatization takes greater hold and experienced teachers are eliminated or chased away from inner cities, many things will be lost.

One of these things is the ability to strike a balance between A.) tailoring the educational experience to the demographics of your classroom and B.) ensuring that this educational experience is on par with schools that serve the most advantaged youths of our nation.

Some classrooms have students that need to be brought from Point M to Point Z. Some classrooms and school systems have more students that need to be brought from Point A to point Z.

Is it institutionalized racism to do this? Sometimes it can be. Sometimes it is racist to NOT do so.

I can see nothing that could prepare a teacher to find this balance but some years of trial and error, successes and mistakes. And hopefully a few “been there for 35 years” teachers to get advice from– ha, even sometimes .f it is to see how it used to be done and what can use improvement.

Homogenizing classroom management, instruction, and curriculum is akin to “trickle down education.” My concern is that cookie cutter Common Core standards and Online Instruction are nothing more than “cake” from Marie Antoinette. There are social strata in our country, and I believe it takes a human touch and some autonomy to best address these issues.