As the sub assignments begin in earnest, (5 different schools in 5 days, e.g.) there are two correlated issues that have already made themselves forcefully evident.
- In lower SES schools, there are fewer adults around and
- In lower SES schools the need for support and intervention is conversely starkly self evident.
Yet it’s a chicken and egg dilemma. Where the ratio is reversed, the outcomes, I believe, would also be reversed.
Examples from the frontlines – and you know I try not to generalize from the particular, but here I go!:
At schools Y and Z, there is a reasonably smooth flow all day, and most children are on task and happy.
At schools A and B, there are 2-3 kids in each K who demand constant attention:
· hit, punch, snatch things from other kids;
· require the undivided attention of the teacher,
· cling (even though they have just met me),
· try desperately to create a personal relationship with me as if there were no other children, or my role as Teacher.
Maintaining flow is very choppy. But don’t simply blame this on the SES of the kids, or their supposed inherent deficits – it’s because in Y and Z, as soon as a child begins to fray, there is an adult seamlessly intercepting them. There are other factors, but in Kindergarten and 1st Grade, there simply has to be a balance of supporting adults to maintain the safety, sanity and good humor in these buildings.
The same applies to school offices:
Another sub and I arrive at school A at 8:05. No-one is around. Teachers rush in, sign an attendance book and run out, smiling at us. Eventually someone says “Did you try the Office?” Two rooms into the inner sanctum is a closed door behind which an intense parent conference is taking place. We knock gingerly, but no response. At 8:25, the door opens and after extensive farewells, we are asked our business. A patient Secretary is explaining the very complex daily schedule sheet and where we need to go, only to be interrupted by the Principal telling us to go get our kids as it’s unprofessional to leave them waiting. Excuse me?
If there were enough paid adults to keep one in the office at the crucial start of the day, would the day flow more smoothly?
Who decides where to make budget cuts and where to invest school funds? Why are there no Paras in K and 1st here? Why are these not the schools where Education students and “America Reads” volunteers are assigned? In many cases these teachers are just as exemplary and knowledgeable as the more ‘privileged’ schools (in terms of adults), (quite apart from their nominations for sainthood). And aren't these schools the same as those where graduating students will more likely get to work?
Do budgets really vary this widely? Are needier schools spending their money on expensive trainings and commercial curricula and test prep materials, or are they actually underfunded?
With more adults available, when student one has a tantrum over sharing a box of Legos, student two throws up or pees his pants, and student three crumples up her paper in frustration and throws it across the room, just as student four is telling you about how his mother is tired because she is waiting for a kidney transplant, there will be someone other than the teacher all alone with 18-24 children, to jump in and help. (All of these things happened to me this week. And where were all the other children? Soldiering on quietly and unremarkably – yet they are all remarkable!)
No question that teachers can and do cover all these bases, though at what personal and professional cost? And some of you are muttering - 'I'd just as soon work alone, for all the help I get from my Para', etc. But the impact on the use of time and the quality of the educational program is unquestionable. While the school with 1-2 extra adults can be holding animated discussions about the use of capitals and periods, whether all sharks eat people, or how to choose a Just Right book, the teacher who is alone, held to the exact same standard, can be grateful that the children listened at story time and transitioned safely to lunch.
Is that fair and equitable? Make no mistake; the dysfunctional child is in both classrooms. How he is handled and nurtured and his needs are met depends to a huge extent on the ratio of caring adults in his school setting. The supportive family and SES play a part, but the make or break factor is this.