Recently, some staff at Rubidoux High School were suspended over their social media posts concerning the students who chose to walk out of class and join the Day Without Immigrants protests. Let me admit up front: I have not read the actual comments they posted. The thread was removed from Facebook. I have only some vague references that the Riverside Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA) mentioned in an article to go from so please do not take what I have to say as supporting or condoning what was posted.
What I do know comes from my own experience after spending 30 years as a teacher, 29 of which were at the middle and high school levels where such student walkouts have become increasingly more common. I will also point out, none of those years were spent at the school in question or the district it involves.
It is true, many of us who have taught no longer mind when students walk out claiming they are protesting some wrong of society. In most cases, these are students who have no real idea what they are protesting. Many are just looking for an excuse to leave campus without facing any consequences. They have figured out when a coupe hundred kids walk off campus there become too many to discipline because quite frankly, it is too much work for any administration to handle.
Teachers do enjoy the peace and calm of teaching classes that are half empty, devoid mostly of those who get in the way of quality learning. While there are a few well informed student leaders who may walk out for the right reasons, all too often, most do not know what day of the week it is let alone what they are protesting. Their schoolwork, or lack there of, is proof of just how ill informed they are.
The article I read referred to how the cafeteria was much cleaner after lunch as a result of the walkout, which is entirely understandable. Not only did fewer students pass through, but anyone who has ever worked in any capacity on a public school campus can tell you, the same students who disregard the learning process are also the ones who show no regard for the food that is often being provided to them free of charge or the work involved in cleaning up after it is served.
While color comes into play in many of these factors, it is no lie minorities are more apt to be poor and under educated in our society, it is not an excuse for the disregard to ones peers and their right to learn or those given the task of doing so.
As is commonly reinforced in school, race and economics do not make a person respect the property or jobs of others. It does not determine whether or not you are polite. It is not an excuse for throwing away a free education or school lunch for that matter. These are all factors all of us control.
This is what is frustrating to so many educators. We want to improve society by establishing a better foundation through educating those whose parents, grand parents, or great grand parents may not have had access to or taken advantage of. While it is never the fault of a student for how large the size of a class is, the behaviors and attitudes of students are completely within their control and the influence of their parents. No amount of teaching can undo this. You are either raised to be polite and respectful and held accountable for failing to at home, or you are not.
This is why when you are tasked with the job of teaching and you see our leaders cram as many kids into classes as they can, manipulate the numbers to make the average class sizes seem much smaller than they are, refuse to place hard caps on the sizes of all classes, and to enforce a real system of discipline that holds both the students and their parents accountable, you get the type of frustrations voiced by those suspended at Roubidoux High School.
If there is a real fault of the teachers, whether or not they expressed racist, or perceived racist comments, is that they took to social media during a time of day they are suppose to be teaching. You see, if you really value the act of teaching, you take advantage of every free moment you have to do so and hold off on your comments until you are at the staff lunch table or a local bar after work. You don’t post it on a network students and parents have access to and leave it to them to interpret.
You can bet most of the administrators who were tasked to discipline the offending teachers could relate to the frustrations they feel. Believe it or not, it is a primary driving force for many who go into administration. They believe it will free them of all the crap teachers put up with.
Still, they are placed between a rock and a hard place because while they understand the frustrations of teachers, they also know parents and students have the same right to be angry over those comments being made public.
Over thirty years, I will admit I placed more than one administrator between a rock and a hard spot. I have fallen on my sword to ease the anger of a parent who either refused to think their little angel was at fault for anything or were just incapable of seeing another perspective. I have known a few teachers who were racists and yet was powerless to do anything about it because most were also smart enough to figure out how to hide it from students or their boss. I have also encountered plenty of students and parents with their own preconceived, shall I even say racist, perspectives and have had to negotiate my way around, and sometimes through, their ignorance.
Now that I am no longer in education and have been away long enough to gain some perspective I may not have previously held, I believe we get what we deserve. What do I mean?
Our schools are often underfunded, and even more often just poorly run financially. We are not just forced to pay far more than a fair price for something like a textbook, we are not even allowed to look elsewhere for a better deal. Worse, we are told by a far removed federal government what and how is the best way to teach kids and run our schools. The end result is an increasingly canned and corporate approach that focuses more on the bottom line of dollars and sense than it does students and their needs. Why? Because it is much easier.
And yet, teachers are constantly trying to challenges students to think beyond the simple and to open their minds to concepts not easily mastered. We get frustrated when kids just want the easy way to doing something while we are forced to fit into a canned system.
Rubidoux High claims to have an average class size of just over 27 students. Let me tell you, that is not the case in an overwhelming majority of their classes. With a greater percentage of our student population qualifying for special services, the kind that require much smaller class sizes, at the same time our high schools and middle schools push to offer advanced placement classes, the kind that only a few qualify for making for smaller classes, it leaves the rest of the so-called “average students” in classes that far exceed the 27 or so most of our high schools claim to have.
I have taught too many Physical Education classes with over 70 students in them. This allows administrators to bring down the sizes in some of the aforementioned classes. I have also taught plenty of the “average” or “regular” classes in History and Language Arts and have been blown away with seeing close to fifty students in a class.
I have been told by administrators I have a total class average throughout the day that is within the district’s required numbers because they add my duty free prep period, the one designed to grade papers, plan lessons, call parents, and attend IEP’s, as part of the classes they divide my total numbers by.
If you have a student who has grown increasingly frustrated over the poor education he receives, if you are a parent who is even more frustrated by what your kid is receiving, most teachers understand. They are probably more frustrated than ever, not because they want an easier job to do, but rather because they simply want the best opportunity to do their best work, something we are far too often not being provided.
So the next time a mass of students walk off campus protesting something most have no idea what it is about, just know there are many teachers who are relived for the rare opportunity to reach those kids who are also equally happy to be in an environment that allows for the type of education every person is deserving of in this nation.
All photos are screen shots from YouTube
Top photo: Students from San Francisco High School in San Francisco, CA
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.