Letters to the LA Times | December 19, 2009
Teachers learn too
I am a school volunteer going into my fifth year running an after-school program in a Los Angeles Unified elementary school.
When I started, I was overwhelmed by classroom chaos. I went into this venture filled with romance. Many teachers start their careers the same way.
Teachers told me they did not receive training to deal with the chaos. Nobody knows about it until they are in a classroom, alone, faced with the reality of the power play.
I continue to find my way controlling the room. It feels perilous at times. The best piece of advice I was given: Don't think about whether they like you; abandon all notions of being liked.
Mel Ryane | Los Angeles
May I offer a few suggestions for Brent Walmsley at Daniel Webster Middle School, based on 31 years of classroom experience?
First, move your desk to the front of the room. Students need to know that you are looking at them.
Second, get on your feet and circulate around the room, even while taking attendance. A teacher standing next to a seated student has a positive effect on that student's behavior.
Third, while moving around the room, offer reinforcement (verbal or otherwise) to those who are on task, and give the silent stare to those who are not.
Fourth, learn students' names.
Finally, develop a system of rewards and consequences, and follow through consistently.
Hang in there, Brent. Let the students know that you care enough about them to demand high standards. Share a little of yourself with them, and try to give each student some positive attention every day.
Donald Kerns | Garden Grove
I was shocked by this article. In particular, I could not get over the incident between Walmsley and a recalcitrant female student in his class.
Why would that poor teacher or anyone else want to be in a classroom with such disrespectful young people? How is this student allowed to get away with speaking to an adult -- any adult -- in that manner, and how will Walmsley ever assert authority in the classroom now that the other students have seen her get away with it?
And most of all, what is the matter with our society that we seem to be raising a generation of children with zero respect for any adults -- as human beings, let alone as authority figures -- and nobody seems to think this is a problem?
Gayle K. Brunelle | Fullerton
As someone who has been teaching English for nearly 20 years, I was delighted to see coverage of the difficulties faced by teachers seeking to maintain a balance of order and encouragement in classrooms.
However, there is a blind spot in your report: the role administrators play in supporting teachers who seek to reinforce classroom or school policies.
I have noticed a disturbing pattern of administrative (and often parental) discouragement, and even direct undermining, of faculty who seek simple and coherent follow-through about missed classes and tardiness, poor grades, cheating or plagiarism, and even threatening behavior. This problem seems most acute in suburban settings.
As they absorb this alarming lesson, new teachers who do become veterans may, over time, amend or modify interventions because they absorb institutional and cultural messages that isolate them as "the enemy."
Jo Scott-Coe | Riverside
I teach English at Webster Middle School, and like many of our faculty, I had to shake my head at your article.
Not mentioned: The countless, thankless, unpaid hours that Walmsley spends after school every day to plan and make disciplinary phone calls; and that he is already turning his tough situation around.
The intense pressure and exasperation a new teacher feels made the front page courtesy of a Times reporter visiting his room. Bravo.
And people wonder why new teachers don't stick around.
Richard Mandl | Los Angeles
As a local school board member and the parent of three public school graduates, I was interested in the article about the middle school student who sued Beverly Hills Unified School District, which disciplined her for cyber-bullying a classmate. The plaintiff had posted a YouTube video that ridiculed, abused and humiliated a fellow eighth-grade girl, and, after being nabbed and suspended by the middle school, sued to expunge the blot on her record.
Schools stand in loco parentis -- in the place of parents -- while children are at school. When the plaintiff's school found out about her cyber-bullying, it did what I think any responsible parent would do: It tried to teach the bully not to do it again.
I guess the Beverly Hills schools didn't realize that some of the parents it stands in the place of are OK with their kids posting offensive videos about other children.
After all, the plaintiff's attorney in the lawsuit was her own father. He won for his daughter the right to be mean. Is that something to be proud of?
Kathi Smith | Ojai
How gratifying it is to see America's youngsters exercising with such enthusiasm their constitutional right to free expression.
For those frustrated administrators and teachers who wish they could do more to rein in students when they use said rights to denigrate and shame their classmates,
I would like to point out that free speech is a gift we all enjoy. Anyone, for instance, may write a letter to a college admissions board if he feels a prospective candidate has demonstrated behavior of a noncollegiate nature.
Perhaps we all should be more mindful of the blessings and pitfalls of unfettered expression. Just because one can say something doesn't mean one should.
Brandon Crist | Torrance