Sunday, March 25, 2007

Reading Diary: Haberman's Star Teachers, Entry 1

I wish I'd read Haberman's 94 page volume Star Teachers of Children of Poverty much earlier! That might have saved both me and my students some frustration. Anyway, it is an enlightening and galvanizing read.

Haberman has observed and interviewed large numbers of "Star Teachers", teachers who are considered excellent according to standards such as their pupils' standardized test scores, their principals' evaluations, colleagues' ratings, and parents' judgment. He claims that some 8% of teachers in large urban school district are such "stars", and proceeds to describe how they think and work, and how what they think, say and do differs from what "failures and quitters" think, say and do. I find myself alternately nodding in recognition of what works in a high-poverty school, and cringing when reading some of the descriptions of failures' and quitters' approaches to the peculiar difficulties of these classrooms. I share traits of both star teachers and failures/quitters.

Haberman writes off teacher education as directed toward middle class kids with middle class problems. He claims that a teacher preparation that would lead its graduates to classify a majority of their clients as "abnormal" is unhelpful at best. He tears apart the notion that students "should" be at grade level when they enter a class, and that the classrooms "should", as a prerequisite for teaching, contain only more or less decently behaved students. His ideas here echo TMAO's harangues against those that would define the major challenges of the teaching job to be somehow outside the domain of teaching, to be distractions rather than inherent parts of the task (or maybe TMAO is echoing Haberman, as Haberman undeniably has been around longer:). Haberman claims that teaching children of poverty really is a very different story, and that teacher training should take this into account.

Interestingly, and in contrast with much of what I have been taught about classroom management and discipline, Haberman reports that star teachers spend little time on discipline, have few rules, do not follow a predetermined set of escalating consequences, are not concerned about letting students 'get away with' things. He ridicules the notion that 'consequences' can keep children in these schools under control, let alone in a state of learning. A colleague and I have often discussed how 'consequences' can ever be seen as a threat to students who daily negotiate danger, pain and inconvenience that are greater by orders of magnitude than anything the schools can impose. We have never gotten this approach to work, the idea seams laughable when we consider the backgrounds and attitudes of our worst behaved students (almost invariably the ones who have witnessed violent deaths, loss, and repeated, intense frustration) - yet our university mentors always keep repeating that there must be consequences! - and this Haberman guy, who sounds like he's actually been inside this kind of school, just brushes this notion aside. What works is building relationships with the students and finding ways of involving them in learning. If that doesn't work, there's nothing else that will work either. Maybe it is actually just as well that I didn't read this before starting to teach in this place, as I might have written him off as an overly idealistic romantic, but really, I think he is right.

3 comments:

Tony said...

Sounds like a great read, I'll have to pick up a copy. I've often thought that the biggest contributing factor to student misbehavior is sheer boredom. That can be corrected with a little imagination and an educator's willingness to try something new. We can always do better.

Dan Meyer said...

The whole no-rules thing is one of the scariest things ever, particularly for a micromanager like me.

I carry the same sliding scale of consequences and the same rules I always have. The difference between this year -- where I've had to write, like, two disciplinary referrals all year -- and in years past, is a certain lack of surprise from having seen a wiiiide percentage of the worst behavior students have to offer.

That experience has helped me shed a lot of insecurity and afforded me a certain confidence that permeates everything. Students want a confident leader and I feel like this is the first year where I've seen enough to give that to them.

I'd sum up this year's disciplinary experience with post, which references this clip from The Wire. Since you've got, like, acres of time and whatnot.

Seems like you're reaching that point prematurely. Cut in line again and watch what happens to you. I've got the referral written up and everything.

This is a great post and a sharp blog. I'm subscribing. Try to keep it more than monthly for us, huh?

H. said...

Dan, thank you for such an encouraging comment!

More writing when Spring Break comes around. Two more days...