If you want better schools, rural or otherwise, improve motivation and discipline of students

My blog entry on rural schools, prompted by an AJC Sunday story on rural education in Georgia, spurred a lot of comments, including this email from retired educator and school head Dennis Brown of Villa Rica. (I have shared other responses by Brown on teacher quality.)

Here is his latest:

There is always a need for more great teachers in the classroom. But the title of your article this morning, “How do we entice great teachers to move to remote rural schools,” suggests there are none there today. That’s just not the case.

There are some great teachers already in place. But their effectiveness is muted and often their  hands tied by pedagogy and lack of equipment. Let’s first attack the real problem – and while I hesitate to use it to identify what that real problem is, the saying “If you want to improve the prisons, improve the prisoners” is never more true in our schools than it is today.

State of mind and environment before the student even enters the classroom is the key – and that begins at home and in the community at large. Even the best of teachers can’t overcome a classroom filled with unmotivated and non-disciplined students. And even more than for the teacher, I feel sorry for the one or two motivated students in a classroom filled with another 30 just putting in their time and more interested in the social interaction than the learning.

Expectations are more often than not lowered and even some of the most basic academic challenges abandoned to teach to the masses. Of course, the results are sub par. The results I’m talking about include not only questionable standardized testing scores, but also increased drop-out and decreased high school graduation rates, and youngsters with entitlement mentalities turned loose in society.

Bottom line — let’s stop pointing the finger at the schools and suggest that attracting “great” teachers is the answer to turning things around.

Let’s put the money, the publicity and time where the problem really lies – first defining what educational outcomes are desired in that community and its schools and then addressing through public forums and workshops the parents’ responsibilities at home in the setting of guidelines and expectations for their children’s performance.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

113 comments Add your comment

Dr. Proud Black Man

November 19th, 2012
2:51 pm

Amen amen amen!

Centrist

November 19th, 2012
3:01 pm

Read that post, and couldn’t agree more. Very well stated.

Mountain Man

November 19th, 2012
3:03 pm

At last! Someone who actually understands and speaks the truth!!

Teachers can’t teach empty desks and they can’t teach while some thug in the back of the class is harasing everyone. And this is the ADMINISTRATOR’S job to deal with discipline and attendance.

The answer isn’t “better” teachers – it is better students and parents. WANT YOUR SCHOOL TO BE BETTER, PARENTS? THEN GET YOUR LAZY BUTT OUT OF BED AND GET YOUR KID ON THAT BUS – ON TIME AND EVERY DAY!!!!! (unfortunately, at failing schools the parents just don’t CARE)

Mountain Man

November 19th, 2012
3:07 pm

The number one reason that people don’t get hired for jobs or lose jobs that they have is because of basic personal skills – such as getting up on time and being to work on time – every day.

And it all starts in the school system.

Concerned taxpayer

November 19th, 2012
3:11 pm

There is absolutely no question in my mind that this is the crux of the matter. But will “public forums and workshops” produce the needed change in parental attitudes and behaviors?

Mountain Man

November 19th, 2012
3:13 pm

“But will “public forums and workshops” produce the needed change in parental attitudes and behaviors?”

No, it will probably take a little more “stick” rather than “carrot”. Enforce attendance. Get the discipline problems into the alternative schools. Quit forcing teachers to “socially” promote students hwho have not mastered the grade level subject matter.

StnMtnMOM

November 19th, 2012
3:14 pm

You hit the nail on the head and parents need to realize and accept this fact!

Ron F.

November 19th, 2012
3:15 pm

Mr. Brown makes excellent points in this post. Perhaps best is the need for workshops and community forums to help parents understand what is needed from them. Those living in generational poverty, especially in the rural districts where there aren’t many opportunities to move out of it, often just don’t have the skills to help their kids or the desire to do so. Changing the mindset of the community is vital, and we either have to roll up our sleeves and do that or we’ll have to accept what we get in the classrooms.

rural county dweller

November 19th, 2012
3:21 pm

In my rural county we are “eat up”, as the locals say, with unmotivated, undisciplined kids. If you want to see why they are like this, all you have to do is meet their parents. The majority of locals in these communities are just lazy people. As long as they have $300 per week, some tobacco and the trailer payment made, they are good to go.
Sadly our rural public schools are full of the offspring of these folks. It dumbs down the whole system.

Mountain Man

November 19th, 2012
3:31 pm

Honey Boo-Boo?

Mountain Man

November 19th, 2012
3:35 pm

In our (rural) county, it is common for the female high schoolers to be pregnant.

Mountain Man

November 19th, 2012
3:38 pm

You cannot change the attitude of the students or the parents, but you CAN enforce policies that limit their destructiveness to themselves and does not allow the entire school system to be dragged down. The only reason for the “public forums and workshops” is to inform parents of what those policies are and that they will be rigorously enforced.

Then all the administrators need are a good pair of gonads.

Jack ®

November 19th, 2012
3:50 pm

Lack of discipline is the central problem. The school boards know that and the administrators know that and nobody even attempts to correct the problem. A teacher can’t teach unless he or she can dismiss immediately any student that is disrupting the class in any way without fear of being overruled. And then let the chips fall….anything is better than what we have now.

indigo

November 19th, 2012
3:52 pm

There are two things that need to be done:

1. Raise the average IQ’s and general overall quality of Georgia’s students.
2. Stop parents from calling trial lawyers everytime their darlings are effectively punished at school.

The above will happen at about the same time Georgia’s politicians achieve a national reputation for honesty and integrity.

Susan

November 19th, 2012
4:01 pm

Parents rule the schools. . .If Johnnie doesn’t take his book to class or do his homework, it’s because he has a job and doesn’t have time. If Johnnie fails a final, he needs a chance to do it over. If Johnnie is a senior but he doesn’t have the units to graduate, he has to have special tutoring or be given the final over because his folks have bought his cap and gown and sent out invitations.

If Johnnie perceives mistreatment or if he gets in trouble, his parents are at the front door ready to accuse his teacher(s) or the administrators. Nothing is ever Johnnie’s fault. . .and as long as Mama and Daddy support him, he never has to tell the truth or be responsible for his actions and he certainly will never fail.

Unfortunately, I have seen this in the college classroom as well. Parents still think they can excuse their college student’s failures.

indigo

November 19th, 2012
4:08 pm

The chances of improving motivation and discipline in Georgia’s grade school students are about the same as finding a way to solve the Arab-Israel conflict.

Don't Tread

November 19th, 2012
4:21 pm

Brown got it right…especially the “youngsters with entitlement mentality” part. Who cares about spending 12, 16, 20+ years in school preparing for a job when you can just make babies, collect welfare, get free health care, and not lift a finger? After all, it’s what their parents did…well the parent they know, anyway. (Just make sure you keep voting Democrat to keep the freebies flowing.)

jd

November 19th, 2012
4:23 pm

The truth, as always, is in the middle. Unlike other countries, our top college students prefer to work where they can earn more pay — most teachers are C and B students in college — hardly the cream of the crop.

There are a lot of other factors which contribute to a student’s success — motivation from home, income, a full stomach, a caring teacher, a community school — we all have to work to improve our situation —

Just remembered the old saw — when you point a finger at someone, there are four other fingers pointing at yourself.

Just Sayin.....

November 19th, 2012
4:24 pm

Mr. Brown is spot on. But lets be clear: the problem is WORSE than he mentions. Why? Because… when I went to school in GA… the students were separated by proven ability. Generally, this meant that those who WANTED to learn all found themselves in the same class. Now, some lame brained ivory tower pukes decided that students with lesser abilities could be “helped” but students with greater abilities, and lumped them all into the same classes. Hint: smarter kids do not help dumber kids learn. So now, EVERY class is laden with discipline problems and kids who don’t want to be there, dragging down every student’s learning experience and scores. And folks wonder why we spend so much money now on education and don’t get results much better than 30 years ago when we have, in fact, tossed a dozen anchors in every single classroom.

This subject is EXACTLY why the charter school amendment passed. Charter schools will segregate kids into those with motivation and discipline who want to learn, and those who don’t.

Shel

November 19th, 2012
4:24 pm

Thank you Mr. Brown for mentioning the 2 motivated students in a classroom of 30 unmotivated ones. My sons are the motivated ones who get very frustrated with their classmates and we are in a well off suburban school. They are not just in the rural schools. I don’t understand why these parents don’t want something better for their kids!

TimeOut

November 19th, 2012
4:32 pm

“Most teachers are C and B students in college………hardly the cream of the crop…………” JD, do you have some stats to back up this claim? Most of my colleagues do not have degrees from colleges of education, but from their areas of disclipine (Science, World Languages, etc.) to which they’ve added teaching credentials. When interviewing new hires, we won’t even look at anyone with less than a A/High B average. We know which universities insist on rigorous preparation and which ones are little more than diploma mills. We don’t interview the latter’s graduates. Which systems hire those from the bottom of the pile? I’ve never worked in any of those and I’ve spent 33 years in Georgia classrooms.

Old timer

November 19th, 2012
4:41 pm

Well written article and, and oh so true. Having parent training would help if the ones that needed it would be among those who show up.

Beverly Fraud

November 19th, 2012
4:42 pm

Umm Maureen, Dr. John Trotter has been saying the same thing since at least 1995. Perhaps if the AJC hadn’t had a vested interest in trying to demonize him, and instead listened to him, the AJC wouldn’t have made a complete fool of itself glorifying Beverly Hall for the better part of a decade.

TeacherMom4

November 19th, 2012
5:11 pm

So very, very true. As an elementary teacher, I’m not even talking about severe disruptors, ie. chair-throwers and teacher-cursers. The simple inability to focus and concentrate for more than 10 minutes at a time, the need to talk to others for at least 15 minutes before beginning to work, the inability to follow instructions like ‘Please don’t talk when I’m talking.’ or “Please be quiet in the hallway; we’re disrupting other classes,’ these are the types of motivation/self discipline issues that are driving me crazy. Kids don’t want to participate in their own learning. Even planned activities that allow them to work with others usually see them socializing instead. I don’t mean just a little side conversation that I would be o.k. with, I mean totally off-task, unrelated, and unending social intercourse. There is no sense of urgency for anything other than what they want to do. These attitudes do not correlate with high levels of learning, just high levels of self absorption. Until they see learning as important and have the self-discipline to put their responsibilities ahead of their desires, they won’t learn to their highest potential.

Teacher and Taxpayer

November 19th, 2012
5:31 pm

Why is okay for pregnant students, (as young as middle school aged) to walk the halls proudly here in Georgia? I was dumbfounded when I first saw this. Why aren’t they being taught with their peers? They need to know parenting skills, budgeting, birth control, lifeskills in addition to academics. Also, since there are no nurses in most schools, if something tragic happens, who will be there to address this? Labor perhaps, an accident?

incredulous

November 19th, 2012
5:31 pm

@Timeout. In which system to you teach? If your system’s HR is so focused and extends those requirements to administrators, then your system’s results should be in line with the most prestigious of private schools. Completely outside the curve! The practices you mention are not part and parcel for the remainder of the state.

vh3

November 19th, 2012
5:37 pm

Just Sayin posted “when I went to school in GA… the students were separated by proven ability. Generally, this meant that those who WANTED to learn all found themselves in the same class.”

But now, when some schools try to do the same, it’s called racism (see recent AJC articles about North Atlanta HS and the Buckhead Reporter). Kids who want to succeed come in all colors and from all kinds of families. Schools should be separating kids based on attitude, aptitude, etc. – and they shouldn’t be accused of being “racist” for doing so.

Dennis

November 19th, 2012
5:40 pm

“Let’s put the money, the publicity and time where the problem really lies – first defining what educational outcomes are desired in that community and its schools and then addressing through public forums and workshops the parents’ responsibilities at home in the setting of guidelines and expectations for their children’s performance.”

In one for of another, Georgia classroom teachers have said this for decades.

However, tell it to Governor Deal who is so eager to take Georgia’s taxpayer’s money and give it to private “educational” corporations via charter schools.

His is nothing more than politics with Georgia’s school children.

Further more, let him deny it.

living in an outdated ed system

November 19th, 2012
5:44 pm

A great teacher uses the right stimuli for the specific learning styles of the individual student. Not everyone is going to get up on a desk and rap like Ron Clark does (although he is a great teacher, don’t get me wrong). I encourage you to read the white paper from the Innosight Institute on intrinsic motivation. Digital learning can go a long way towards improving student motivation.

Dennis Brown should understand that our system is out of date and not allowing teachers to incorporate learning tools that can reach these at-risk youth. I do not support Dennis when he says, “even the best of teachers can’t overcome a classroom filled with unmotivated and non-disciplined students.” Look at what the Atlanta Music Project is doing – your newspaper just published a great article about it (”Atlanta Music Project Gaining Steam”).

I’m sorry Maureen, but this blogger believes that we CAN reach these kids. It’s just that the system forces the real success stories to happen OUTSIDE the classroom.

mountain man

November 19th, 2012
5:55 pm

“And folks wonder why we spend so much money now on education and don’t get results much better than 30 years ago when we have, in fact, tossed a dozen anchors in every single classroom.”

Amen, Just sayin’.

“This subject is EXACTLY why the charter school amendment passed. Charter schools will segregate kids into those with motivation and discipline who want to learn, and those who don’t.”

Amen to that, too.

mountain man

November 19th, 2012
5:56 pm

“Which systems hire those from the bottom of the pile? I’ve never worked in any of those and I’ve spent 33 years in Georgia classrooms.”

Did you work for APS?

Hillbilly D

November 19th, 2012
6:20 pm

I don’t see how lack of discipline, inattentive students and parents who don’t care are the exclusive domain of rural areas. Looks to me like it’s everywhere.

Pride and Joy

November 19th, 2012
6:22 pm

yes! It is the children’s fault and the parents’ fault that schools are failing.
Of course.
Why would anyone expect the featured Get Schooled teacher-blogger say anything different?
Teachers have absolutely no impact whatsoever on education.
When kids don’t learn it is because they are lazy good for nothing scumbags just like their parents.
Of course.

sloboffthestreet

November 19th, 2012
6:46 pm

What are the chances of simply teaching all the darlings the same basic reading, writing & math. Establish proper conduct expectations the first day of school. You folks send home a handbook and expect parents to sign and return an acknowledgement stating they have read and understand the rules the board has established at the beginning of every school year. If there is a student that is assaulting another student or faculty member dial 911 and let law enforcement deal with the situation. That is what DOE suggests parents do. Please do call the parents of the child who was assaulted though. Also please treat friends and family of faculty and school employees the same as you treat every other student. You teachers and administrators have every opportunity to control student behavior from day one and also provide proper motivation to encourage students to be motivated and excel no matter who their daddy is. When will you people perform instead of making excuse after excuse for your failures? You should be expected to be able to teach a dog to sit before you are ever given a teaching certificate. It takes patience, consistency and repetition. A pat on the back and a reward every once in a while helps too! Good Boy!! Good Girl!!

Dennis Brown

November 19th, 2012
6:49 pm

Can’t agree with you more, Hillbilly D. Which is why the title of this Maureen’s blog is so right on target = ” If you want better schools, rural or otherwise, improve motivation and discipline of students”

mountain man

November 19th, 2012
6:56 pm

“You teachers and administrators have every opportunity to control student behavior from day one and also provide proper motivation to encourage students to be motivated and excel no matter who their daddy is.”

TEACHERS used to have that power – when they had the “board of education”. Now they are prohibited from any corporal punishment. When they give any other punishment, the parents descend upon the administrators like angry hornets, and the administrators cave and make the teachers rescind the punishment. Teachers send the discipline problems to the office to be dealt with (since all their powers have been taken away) and the office sends the kid right back to the classroom.

Wes

November 19th, 2012
7:03 pm

Our society has become too politically correct to solve problems involving people’s performance. The victim mentally is rampant. Schools should be allowed to dismiss students who fail to follow simple rules and rob other students of their educational opportunity. I’m all for giving students as many chances as possible but the action of a few are affecting the whole. Give the chronic behavior problem students back to their parents and let them be responsible for educating them. Rules in my school as so basic that any decent minded individual could follow them. Some of these kids have no respect for anyone or anything. Parents are nonexistent and the students have called the school’s bluff or “worked the game” as they call it.

Dondee

November 19th, 2012
7:10 pm

Most teachers were C students ? I graduated magna cum laude as a mom to three young kids. Most of the teachers I work with have kids who have done very well in all levels of education. At least half their intelligence came from their teacher parent….quit perpetuating that tired myth…..

Soothsayer

November 19th, 2012
7:16 pm

Are you kidding me? Most students, rural or suburban, are bored to death in today’s classrooms, and as a result become discipline problems. As long as we continue to teach the way we did 30-40 years ago (textbooks, worksheets, lectures,…), we will continue to fail. Our students are digital natives, and until we fully implement techology into instruction and increase the rigor of activities, projects, and tasks assigned to students, we will never be successful. For most students, learning stops when they enter the school door. Instead of blaming students and parents, I challenge all educators to bring the 21st century into your classrooms. You might be surprised at how quickly those thugs become superstars!

Jerry Eads

November 19th, 2012
7:17 pm

Wow. so much to respond to, so little space. Lessee – -
1. Actually, teachers MUST have a 2.5 GPA in their first two years JUST to get into the second two years of college. I don’t know what the average is (sorry, don’t have the data) but my guess is that on average teacher GPA is well above 3.0. While much of the simplistic (and NOT refereed) research has suggested that teachers are, well, dumber than everybody else, refereed work (meaning well done) suggests that folks who go into teaching are on average higher achievers than the average bachelor’s level college student.
2. The research is VERY clear that GENERALLY inner city districts across the country have HR departments so disorganized that they do in fact get the bottom of the barrel – the well-run suburban districts get the pick of the crop – and by the time inner-city districts get around to hiring, the best ones (again, on average) already are hired. That does NOT “prove” that APS HR is in bad shape per se. I’ll let others decide that.
3. RURAL districts DO have a tough time attracting teachers. Think about it: High SES suburban school districts tend to produce stronger studentsn(and a lot more of them), those students go to good colleges to become teachers, they naturally enough tend to want to work in strong suburban districts (and get paid more) rather than live in a tiny little rural town.
4. In my quick read of the responders here, no one picked on LEADERSHIP. I’ll stand and defend teachers until I drop no matter where they work, and it’s a TOUGH job teaching less motivated students anywhere. BUT. Along with the many fabulous principals who along with their teachers work 70 hour weeks and for whom their teachers will die for, there are WAY too many principals who probably shouldn’t be there. Fix the principal problem, folks, and we’ll go a long way toward “fixing” schools.
5. That said, the “fix” is a LONG run. One of the major goals of schooling is to create great citizens – even out of the kids who don’t want to be there, so that they’ll motivate THEIR kids to be good students and citizens. Schools have the burden of breaking the cycle. Yes, it’s a tall order, and it’s done one kid at a time by one great teacher at a time.

masr

November 19th, 2012
7:27 pm

Jerry Eads

November 19th, 2012
7:27 pm

Ah. Soothsayer sooths. We’ve had over 40 years of schooling zombied by minimum competency tests JUST LIKE THE ONES WE HAVE IN GEORGIA forcing drill and kill rote memorization day in and day out for the entire school year. Teachers who want to actually TEACH are forced by desperate (and too often incompetent) principals and superintendents to teach to the test. How many among you actually think the cheating problem existed only in two districts in Georgia? The problem isn’t the teachers, folks, even though that’s (as always) who we’re picking on. The problem is that we test kids to death with egregiously inappropriate and poorly made tests.
With any luck (actually we need a lot of it), it may be that the Common Core movement will start to drag American education kicking and screaming away from mincomp testing drill and kill rote recall and actually let teachers be teachers again. Let’s hope.

Ed Johnson

November 19th, 2012
8:28 pm

So much of this is so typical of the religiosity that always compel finding a “who” to blame for every problem. Got a problem? Whose fault is it? It has to be somebody’s fault, right?

Wrong. But, sadly, we have become quick to fault even the children.

The nice thing about the religiosity of blame – hmm… ROB; how fitting — is that it relieves the blamer from having to go learn anything new that might upset his worldview and, heaven forbid, actually lead him to strive to improve something that isn’t a “who” – something like, oh say, a public education system that demotivates so many kids and turns them into, or sustains them as, discipline problems from as early as kindergarten.

It’s not hard to understand why many kids seem not motivated to learn and are discipline problems. We teach them to ROB! And boy do they learn to ROB. We are the evidence.

A Teacher, 2

November 19th, 2012
9:15 pm

@jd and @ incredulous…..Give us factual statistics, not talk show talking points. In my (rural) district, we also would not even interview anyone with less than A’s and B’s in college classes. I personally graduated with honors both undergraduate and graduate. I did make B’s in two of my graduate level pure math classes.

We make any prospective hires come back for a second interview, at which they spend the day with us. We make them teach at least one class, and then we make them interact with kids and other staff for the rest of the day. The cream rises to the top when a prospective teacher has to teach a topic of our choice to a group of strangers.

At my school, we also do not put up with any teacher who is substandard. The community will not put up with it, either.

BC

November 19th, 2012
9:34 pm

I had a former superintendent tell me one time, if you want good test scores, give me good students!!

Truthbetold

November 19th, 2012
10:10 pm

Dear Mr. Mountain Man, I find it ironic that you say that a student’s attendance is in the hands of the administrators. When do parents step in? They had theSE children and now some adults that stay in high school until 20, so parents need to control them and if they cannot, ship them off to miltary schools. Also, if students had home training, then their deportment would not be such that they are constantly being suspended. Why won’t school officials at the county level allow those that disrupt the school to be expelled? They need to be permanently removed, but even then, they simply go to another county. Now, this is why schools are not as successful as they can be==LACK OF PARENT SUPERVISION, CONTROL AND PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT

Dc

November 19th, 2012
10:20 pm

Only in a govt eduacracy would it be acceptable to blame the customer instead of change the product. Thank goodness for charters and other creative forces that just might over time break this stodgy inefficient and innefective monopoly.

Seriously…..i know many teachers live in a cocoon….but your solution is to blame the parents and kids? Not to find a way to reach as many kids as possible? If so, the large monolithic public schools are doomed to failure

Old Physics Teacher

November 19th, 2012
10:32 pm

Guys, guys, guys,

You all forget. It’s not about teaching and learning; it’s about getting off NI (or whatever Gov Deal puts in place). It doesn’t matter what skills these kids have, it doesn’t matter how good the teachers are; it doesn’t matter what the administrators WANT to do with the recidivist students. What matters is: “How many kids started the 9th grade in year one, and how many kids graduated at the end of year four?” When administrators throw out troublemakers, all that does it make it harder to make AYP. When kids fail tests, FOR WHATEVER REASON, and then fail the class, it makes it harder to make AYP. The original goal of No Child Left Behind was seriously flawed and impossible to complete as planned. Maybe the solution is to, like the guy said in the movie Wargame, quit playing the game. Not everybody is cut out to learn upper level math;not everybody is cut out to learn science – look at Rep Paul Broun. If he’s not a perfect example of over-educated and under-learned, I don’t know what is! And he HAS two science degrees. It’s time everybody took a deep breath and realized that schools can’t do what Congress has required us to do. Half of all the citizens in the USA are below average – deal with it!

Tech Prof

November 19th, 2012
10:51 pm

Soothsayer, Mark Prensky was clever to coin the terminology of “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”, but the evidence is building that the so-called digital natives are really not that great at utilizing technology meaningfully for educational purposes, whether for formal or informal learning. Teachers often comment that they have technologies, but not enough training in how to use it. If we look to technology as a tool to help solve the problems of Education, then teachers will need a good deal of professional development to help them use the technology effectively.

Ron F.

November 19th, 2012
11:28 pm

“most teachers are C and B students in college — hardly the cream of the crop.”

3.5 in my undergrad and 4.0 in my master’s…just doing my part to keep the average up I guess. Prove your assertion there- you might be surprised to find the results to be very different.