"I feel that this shouldn't really be the job of teachers..."

Reprinted with permission:

Dear Mike,

I'm a first-year teacher in a large Mississippi high school. I certainly agree that high expectations for behavior, and a consistent system of discipline, are essential for any school. I wish my own school's approach was as deliberate.

I really enjoyed, and mostly agreed with, Kelly Flynn's post. [MG note: read it here. Good stuff].

I'm interested in your thoughts on those behavior issues. I agree that school has to be one place that good behavior is enforced, but as you well know these issues start early. It's never too late to correct them, as many successful charter schools demonstrate.

But the more time I spend teaching, the more I want to see some sort of grassroots effort from parents/the community working to hold students accountable from another angle.

So I guess my question is, what's your approach to enlisting parents and the community to push good behavior? I feel that this shouldn't really be the job of teachers/administrators, and yet it isn't happening organically either.

Sincerely, Alec

Alec, great questions.

1. Alas, I think if you wait for parents as a group to invent the school culture, you'll wait a long time.

There's a Cali group called Parent Revolution. One of their efforts is in the news.

Actually, it has also sparked a movie starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhal, but without Robin Williams (thankfully) and Meg Ryan (same).

But nobody knows if this lead to parents actually stepping up in the way you hope.

2. While I am pretty sure a community-wide effort won't happen in your school to generate the order you (appropriately) hope for as a teacher, I'm also not sure you should even wish for it.

That is, we all wish more parents disciplined their kids well. I bet our neighbor wishes I did better when our kid starts drumming early in the morning.

But to wish that parents also essentially banded together, after work or whatever, to operate the school in some way? I'm a parent of 2 little kids. My wife and I get a ton of help from my in-laws and Pru's brothers. And yet wife and I are barely keeping our shiz together. When we enroll our kid at the school down the street, if it turns out the school culture is bad, I am way too tired to try to have meetings with other parents. I'd act for my kid and my kid alone. We'd do the middle-class thing: move or choose private school. The parents at your school almost certainly do not have the $ to have those options, the way most Americans do.

3. Our approach?

First, disclosure. I hasten to add from my comments exchange yesterday with John Thompson:

(I hereby proclaim that) I don’t think charters typically serve “exactly the same kids” as district schools. I agree with your frame: “we serve 90% or 95% of the same kids, and we’d like to serve them all, but I acknowledge (have long said, actually) that more of the most-difficult-to-educate kids are in neighborhood schools.

Now even while the populations are not identical, they are similar. And here's what I think separates the identical populations of high-performing charters from typical so-so other charters: the degree to which teachers row in the same direction on the tiniest details of discipline matters.

In fact, Blogger Robert Pondiscio, who taught in a traditional NYC school and has visited a bunch of the better charters, recently commented: "I will never, never again teach in a school where different rules and standards apply in my room, yours, Jen's, Rachel's, etc."

In our small teacher residency, we train teachers precisely to join a very specific type of charter or turnaround where they will row in the same direction as other teachers. Not be an island of excellence.

4. Where does this leave you? What is practical in what Roxanna calls a "Pick Your Battles" school?

You got to play the hand you're dealt. Maybe school culture should be the job of teachers. Maybe it shouldn't. Maybe all teachers should row in the same direction. Maybe not.

But as an individual teacher in a large school, one thing you can do is phone parents. Phone calls are not a charter "innovation."

Lisa and I just led a Saturday training for 40 or so Teach For America teachers, many in schools like yours.

Lisa and I -- we just led a Saturday training on this topic for 40 TFAs -- learned about parent calls from this guy, who taught in district schools for 30 years.


A great column on this topic comes from Teacher Ken, another district teacher.

Last word to Alec:

Hi Mike,

It's nice to be reminded that a school where all the teachers are on board and work in sync can create a healthy, orderly, structured environment for its students, and charter schools are definitely some of the best examples of this. In schools like mine, the faculty is nowhere near disciplined enough to present a united front against misbehavior, so in moments of frustration I imagine the community stepping up to provide structure and guidance for students instead. That said, fighting the entropy in my students' lives would obviously take tremendous organization, and sometimes I'm not sure whether there's more "potential energy," so to speak, in schools or in the community at large. Undoubtedly providing quality education to all will require changes to both.