Bribery, Authority and Other Teacher Scripts

8 02 2007

The young “teacher” here is bad enough (not amusing, imo) but the comments in response –assuring her that bribery is what life’s all about — are downright Unthinking. Comment #5 agrees bribery is bad, so you should just reframe it as good, and then all go celebrate!

Is Alfie Kohn out of print or something??

February 6, 2007
Bribery: Confessions of a [Teach for America] middle school teacher

. . .So is it so bad that I bribe children? I had never been one for extrinsic rewards, believing that students must learn and appreciate the intrinsic value of education. But lately, as I’ve come to work with students with more severe negative behavior issues, I have found myself
adding bribery to my list of sins.
With Corey, I began bartering fruit for appropriate behaviors. With my English class, I’ve agreed to serve hot cocoa on Fridays if they work properly until the end of the week. And now, I find myself setting up a new mini math goal for our students that ultimately revolves around bribery.

. . . I needed to refocus our class. We need to raise these skills and scores. I was especially troubled because math problem solving skills are at the cornerstone of everyday life skills. These deficits are the primary reasons why my students are cheated out of their change at Wal-Mart and why they are afraid to order food at McDonald’s.

So what’s my strategy for solving this problem? Bribe ’em. . . .
We’ll spend an afternoon in town eating out on the school’s dime. Not too shabby. They bought into it. We’re revved up once again to practice word problems. Bribery works. (At least to a certain extent.)

But you know what? As guilty as I feel about bribing my students to do work they need to do to begin with, I still sleep just fine at night. Because little do they realize, menu ordering, restaurant budgeting and tip calculating are all part of life skills.
And life skills are really about being able to solve problems.

Thinking on a bit further — teaching skills are life skills, also about being able to solve problems. But in problems inside or outside school, there always will be known parameters, givens to which any acceptable solution must accommodate itself. Lying, cheating, stealing, force and compulsion, seduction and abuse, et cetera are outside those parameters.

So is bribery, in my opinion but more significantly, in THIS case. The teachers admit it right in the blog, that Teach for America says “no bribery” allowed in solving your teaching problems.

So what does this inexperienced, under-prepared “teacher” do, to help students “with severe negative behavior issues” or, those who she refers to in another of her polemics as “mentally challenged?”

Easy! She simply violates that parameter, along with violating her reported personal beliefs, all because it seems expedient at the time — and then she justifies it as being for the kids’ own good, as some sort of secret solution she’s so proud to have discovered (my, what personal quests she is enjoying before age 30, after Chinese cram schools, journalism and TFA! She’ll write a book about this, probably already has the contract signed.)

THAT is what she’s really modeling as life skill, not restaurant or employment math skills for mentally challenged Navajo kids raised on a reservation. (Will these kids ever be academic stars, journalists, authors, exceptional teachers?) It may work for her, get her through the year with something controversial to talk about, but what about kids whose lives, culture, needs and abilities needs bear little or no relationship to hers?

On two related notes: I feel myself getting cranky about all these overconfident, overschooled but under-equipped twenty-somethings, whose school success as an “achiever” makes them think they actually know all the answers to Life, with nothing left to learn from anyone. Maybe the real problem with education politics is coming from the kind of student mind School invariably puts on the top of the heap and sends into the world to teach, chair education committees, etc.? If there’s truth to this, then educating our own isn’t enough, to turn it around before our whole system collapses of its own hubris.

Second, a Columbia Teachers College paper by Professor Elizabeth Graue reveals that teens aspiring to enter teacher education already have developed school-typical negative attitudes about parent involvement, and are steeling themselves against having to cooperate with parents. I suggest that one can argue about whether young people belong in the classroom all those years as students, but once having been there, done that, this paper should put beyond argument that they do NOT belong in the classroom as teachers. Not without

a very different kind of teacher preparation than they’ve been getting:

Individuals come into their professional education with cultural scripts that shape interaction and meaning making . . .

A first step is to recognize that home-school relations are the ultimate crucible of culture. The importance of culture in the practice of schooling has been recognized by the educational research and teacher education communities . . . differences in student achievement are produced by the social practices of schooling, and a growing number of teacher education programs are organized around conceptions of social justice and culturally responsive teaching.
. . . What this project adds to that knowledge is that prospective teachers are subject to multiple cultural forces as they begin to construct a professional identity. They use the tools of biography to form standards of practice for parents and teachers, and this is a recipe for culture clash when they work across cultural differences. . . (and) they are being repositioned from being an object of the educational system to a position of actor within it.

As they go from being a child in a family and/or a student in a school to being a teacher, they don’t shed the former identity like a snake sheds its skin.

Those experiences, values, roles come with them, sometimes cemented to their surface and in others buried deep within their ways of looking at the world.

As these cultural affiliations are melded into a professional identity it appears that one strategy used by teacher candidates is to take up a relational identity of authority over families. With more valid knowledge, less biased motives, and through the lens of personal experience, these prospective teachers found a spot above families, out of the fray of advocacy and parent need where they could be professionals. The cool detachment they hoped would come with their figured world of teaching recognized the value of parents in education but that recognition wanted parents in their place, supporting the efforts of trained professionals. Sharing authority and knowledge was not quite in their schema for teaching—it would somehow be subtractive of their own positions as teachers.

These beliefs, which provide a framework for appropriation of knowledge and values in professional development, are quite stable and form the foundation for an emerging professional identity. . . Images of education figure prominently in the formation of beliefs, shaped by notions of good teachers, ideas of the self as teacher, and memories of self as student. We can better understand the genesis of home-school relations by examining the beliefs held by prospective teachers as they begin their professional program. . .

I suggest that prospective teachers must cross-traditionally consider cultural boundaries of race/class/gender but are also challenged as they move from being a child and student in family and school to the professional position of teacher.
I argue that the role of teacher education is to manage the identity work necessary to integrate the tools of biography and the process of learning to relate to others in a new role.



6 responses

10 02 2007

Oh-oh, why do I think this can’t possibly turn out well?? Two insufferable prides of lions deciding how to cook supper, and we’re IT? JJ

Teacher Union Prez to Baptist clergy:
“Can you imagine if the members of the faith community would join with the NEA, and we go hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, to members of Congress? That is one of the things I have been trying to do, get people to come together as partners, so we can go forward with one message of what is important to kids.”

Weaver said his definition of partnership is there is benefit for both parties. . .

[JJ’s note: the parties AT the party, he means — never mind the rights or needs of the supper they’re sharing; he fudges it to make it seem the kids will be served, so we’ll imagine them sitting at the table as important guests, the raison pour la fête, but no — what he has in mind is kids ON the table AS the feast! Why concern themselves in the slightest over how the dishes might prefer to be cooked?]

Our children, in this scenario, are mere commodities that Congress will be instructed to bless and then carve up into standardized servings for both School and Church — a waste of good food though, since all evidence and experience tells us these lions are insatiable and Congress is probably next on the menu.

21 03 2007
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