old furies revisited

I have a habit (unhealthy, probably) of checking the Chatham County Sheriff's website for jail bookings.  I confess I'm looking for former students.  Sometimes I'm able to reach out and have open dialogue and even try to encourage them.  It's sad, but it's one way I try to stay connected.

Today, however, I saw someone's picture that just pissed me off.

 This is Phillip Mitchell.  In order to follow the rest of my blog, you will first need to read this article, which was published in July of 2004.

The rest of this blog is my response to this article.  I originally wrote this in 2004 as a letter to the editor.  It was much shorter.  The paper, naturally, did not publish it because I basically told them their article was total crap.  Seeing Phillip's picture today brought back these feelings of rage.  He paved his road.  I don't feel sorry for him at all.  I hope he figures out how to be responsible someday.  Mostly,  I just want him to figure out that he's beyond all this - God has made him for something better.

There are two sides to every story. Unfortunately, some journalists choose to report only one side of a story. In this case, very few facts were used, and in their place, opinions took precedence. The article “Cast Out” is incredibly narrow-minded and false, and this is my response to such an indolent attempt at journalism.

No one argues that the transition from middle school to high school is an easy one, but most ninth graders do not realize how challenging high school can be. In a letter to next year's freshmen, one of this year's student's wrote, "During the next four years you will be responsible for yourself. For this reason the following phrases will not work: 'I didn't know,' 'I was not here,' and 'You didn't tell me.' It will be your responsibility . . ."

Phillip Mitchell, featured in the article "Cast Out", is not a victim of the system. Phillip did not fail the ninth grade due to a ten-day suspension or because he is a black male. Phillip failed because he was irresponsible- and long before he was suspended. I am one of his ninth grade teachers, and I actually love having Phillip in class. He is polite and has a great sense of humor, but he is also immature and irresponsible. Phillip’s failure is direct result of his own irresponsibility.

One of the biggest issues with this article is the assumption that race has anything to do with failure. The color of one’s skin does not determine success or failure in life. It’s the culture in which one is raised and to which one chooses to ascribe that determines success or failure. When are we going to stop blaming race and circumstances for our problems and dilemmas? It only further alienates us from each other instead of encouraging us all to work together. If this article had been written well, it would focus on the statistics of ALL struggling students in our system instead of just black males. No student should be more important than the other.

Before students reach high school they should own some responsibility for their education and decisions that impact their grades. Does it frustrate teachers when a student misses class due to a suspension? Absolutely. Kids are not being taught at home, however, that when they miss school it is their responsibility to work with the teacher and complete makeup work. I agree that without instruction it is often difficult for the student to keep up. It is also unfair, however, to the twenty-nine other students in the class to lose their valuable instruction time because of another student's misbehavior (which does not apply to Phillip, but to many suspension cases). It disgusts me to suggest that a student failed the entire ninth grade - all six classes - because he was out for ten days. To suggest that none of Phillip’s teachers were interested in helping him improve his grades is beyond absurd. The problem lies, however, in a suspended student’s interest in catching up on work. I had a chronically ill student in the same course as Phillip who missed well over ten days. That same student worked and studied diligently, came to tutorials, completed extra credit, and passed the class on her own effort. She assiduously took advantage of the help offered. There was nothing hindering Phillip from doing the same but himself.

Teachers send notes, letters, and progress reports home and also make phone calls out of concern for their students throughout the school year. It is questionable that concerned and involved parents who are familiar with progress reports and report cards would be surprised at the end of the school year by a failing grade if they are actively communicating with their child and teachers. I sent a letter home informing Phillip's mother of his failing grades in hopes that he would make an effort to improve. All teachers at Windsor hold regular tutorials and have tutorial times posted for the students' convenience. Several struggling students, Phillip included, never attend tutorials even though they know they should go.

The lack of vigilance and concern does not reside in the teacher’s lounge or principal’s office. At some point, a student has to look in the mirror and admit that his grades are a reflection of his character and effort. I did not choose to teach because I had nothing better to do. I am a teacher because I love kids. I reject any suggestion that I’ve done anything opposite of reaching out to my students time and time again to help them succeed.

Here’s the real problem: apathy is a silent killer in today’s classrooms. It is a bacteria which grows underneath desktops, inside of lockers, and on old books. This disease continues to claim our kids' hopes of having healthy, successful, and happy lives. For many young black males, this apathy stems from dreams of making money pimpin' rides, selling drugs, and touring with Lil' Wayne and Jay Z. But this apathy is not just a problem with these boys. What about the other 2/3 of suspensions? ALL of these kids matter regardless of the color of their skin. The truth is that most of these kids have no grip on reality, and no understanding of the value of education. Sure, they are teenagers, but what value system, if any, is being taught in the home?

I wish I had the answers. I am writing because I do not agree with people who blame teachers and administrators for a student's irresponsibility and a parent’s detachment from reality. At some point, students and parents alike need to accept responsibility for their decisions and realize that they cannot blame other people for their mistakes and negligence. More importantly, I do care, contrary to what this petty article suggests, and more than you can imagine.

2 say sos:

heather ryan morse said...

amen!!!! a second grade teacher for 5 years..agrees wholeheartedly!!!

laura sue johnson said...

thanks for the love, girl :) I know you hear me!


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