Why Our Most Challenged Students Deserve Our Best Teachers (Part III)

In the third part of this series, I am going to chat about Why the “best” teachers are needed to teach our "most challenged" students.

NOTE: This was the question raised in Part I: which students deserve our school’s best teachers?
(I have already made the case in Part II as to why our "best" students deserve our "best" teachers and coming soon, an argument for Part IV: Why the “best” teachers are needed to be teaching the “middle level” students... as well as Part V: A review of the discussion and a exploration of what I think I’d be forced to do if I were a principal trying to figure out which teachers to assigned to which classes.)

Why the “best” teachers need to teach the “most challenged” students.

Let's be honest, our "most challenged" students are all-too-often getting the short end of the stick. They are almost always being taught by either our most inexperienced teachers or our tenured "Lemon" teachers in schools today and this creates an almost, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg" syndrome when it comes to identifying the cause of their perpetual, continued low academic performance.

So which did come first, the student with low skills even after more than 5 years in the same school system or the student continuing to have low skills even after more than 5 years in the same school system because they have been under the direction of the Lemon level or newbie educators for most of their career? (NOTE: Newbies, please do not take offense -- I only intend to disparage the Lemon teachers. We were all new once and trust me, I wish I could go back and apologize for all that I did not know, wasn't able to accomplish and so on, to my first two year's worth of kids -- but often what newbies lack in experience they make up for in gusto and effort so while there are certain things about riding a bike you just can't learn until you have been on the bike for a little bit, there is no fault to be found in people who are just learning to ride their bike -- especially when they are often busting their butts to do so. Therefore, when you read the chart below consider that newbies deserve an * which means they get to remain uncategorized until year 4 in the classroom -- my own arbitrary number based on my own idea that it takes at least 3 years to get a real grip on this job.)

For point of reference to clarify this all (in case you are just joining), I have divided school educators into 3 categories:
--Best teachers
--Average teachers.
--L’s (the L can stand for “Low” or “Lemons” – fill in your own mental blank).
And I have divided students into 3 broad categories:
--Middle Level/Average

Obviously, political correctness got tossed out the window so that I could open a "real" discussion. Additionally, I am speaking in generalizations -- it's the only way I can proceed without hyper-qualifying this commentary to death.)

Okay, back to the main point...

Come on, folks, don't you think we could greatly increase the achievement in our lowest performing students if we set our nation's "best" teachers to the task in a front and center type of way? The answer seems self-evident.

And really, don't the kids who are currently behind the academic eight ball deserve a chance to have their classrooms provide for them the best shot it can in order to get these kids on the right track so that the rest of their life doesn't suffer from the tainted glow of being poorly educated in this society?

As for the top students (who most frequently get a school's best teachers), could it also not be argued that they are already "gettin' theirs" in a host of other places anyway?

Yet can the same really be said of the "lowest kids" on our campus? They usually have the least amount of support at home, the most obstacles in front of them at school and the greatest need for top flight professionals to come in and work some magic with them.

But what really happens most frequently across our nation is that the "lowest" kids come to school and get... the "lowest on the totem pole" teachers.

It's like the game is rigged. The lowest performing students are being overwhelmingly matched with the L teachers... and administrators all over are closing their eyes and hoping that some kind of miracle is going to sweep over the "bottom tier" landscape while their best teachers are off running well-oiled classrooms that prime the top students for an AP curriculum.

Look, we've all seen what miracles can be done by great teachers. We've all seen the mountains that can be moved. Maybe some of us have even been the beneficiaries of being on the receiving end of a terrific educator's efforts and gone from, "Ya know, I never got math until poof! Mr. Jaime Escalante was my teacher."

"Or English until Ms. G. showed some belief in me."

(BTW, Hollywood certainly seems to believe that our "low" kids can blossom into amazing young adults if only a "best" educator in the school gets to be in the front of their classroom.)

Now let's take a sec to examine the idea of having a new, first year educator teach the "challenged/low level kids". It's their first year on campus, first year as an educator, they are bright-eyed, bushy tailed and then thrown into the most challenging circumstances in any of the classrooms on campus (even though they still do not know where all the bathrooms are located on campus). They get kids with academic skills years below grade level, students with both diagnosed and undiagnosed learning disorders, unstable emotional lives, far-from-ideal home lives, a personal history of shame and belittlement in the realm of academics, and classroom behavior that ranges from the merely disruptive to virtually felonious.

Oh, and let's not forget the English Language learners or special needs kid that get mainstreamed into their class as well.

Sound like this is a success story waiting to happen for a first year teacher? Of course not. However, we see it all the time. "They" get "those" kids.

And we wonder why our new teacher attrition rates are so high. Ha! It's because we are utilizing a trial by fire approach with the furnace set to "Roar!" to welcome them into this profession.

Look, "challenged" students make for tough classes. No one will argue this. And what it takes is a skilled educator to reach these kids. It takes a pro, a person with a tool chest full of ideas, experience, know-how and self-confidence. It takes a teacher that knows how to be patient, demanding, light-hearted and a task-master all at the same time.

Plus, it takes intestinal fortitude to want to even tackle this type of challenge in the first place for an entire school year. (It's a long haul; even if you are a top-flight pro teacher, that doesn't mean working in these classrooms becomes any easier. You're just better at it.) Furthermore, it takes an amazing amount of resiliency to know that often when you teach kids at this level it can often be "one step forward, two steps back" for a heck of a long time.

Emotionally that's draining.

And in the realm of NCLB, it's almost entirely thankless as well because a teacher who works in a 9th grade classroom with kids that have skills that are at the 4rth or 5th grade level gets virtually no credit on these tests when they elevate their students to a 7th or 8th grade level in one mere academic year -- because NCLB measurements aren't based on growth.

You either make "the cut" or you get "labeled" negatively without any tip of the hat for the productive achievement or positive progress.

Huh? It's as if the teacher was sitting there reading the newspaper all year. The tests are all or nothing.

Look, let's be honest -- being that the "low" kids are often the most demanding group of students to teach on campus, many, many teachers shy away from the job. It's hard work, it's taxing work, it can also feel like unappreciated work. (It also begs the question as to why one is required to have the temperament of Mother Teresa to thrive in this profession, but that's for another conversation.)

Yet really, has this current system not created a self-fulfilling prophesy with negative implications for all of us? I mean how in the world are the kids with the highest needs ever going to break out of their rut if they are not being given the best chance to do so by having our school's "best" teachers work in their classrooms.

If we really want to elevate learning and test scores in our schools we need to raise the bottom percentiles. They are the weight dragging all scores down. If, as the cliche goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease than the lowest performing students should be getting more grease (i.e. the "best" teachers).

Would they not benefit? Of course they would.
Is it not sensible? Of course it is.
Could real strides not be attained? Of course they will.

And if we could increase the academic achievement of our lowest performing students could we not, perhaps, also make a dent in poverty. (The link is quite clear between level of education and poverty.)

And if we could increase the academic achievement of our lowest performing students could we not, perhaps, also make a dent in crime. (The link is quite clear between level of education and crime.)

And would it not be in the best interests of our society as a whole to both decrease the level of poverty and crime in our country?

Are we doing what's most comfortable for the teachers or what's best for the kids?

Clearly, our most challenged students deserve our "best" teachers.

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