ragamuffin and barefoot

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 25 2008

2nd grade expulsion

I really wish I had the time to update this daily, because my experience with institute thus far has been incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than I am when I’m in the classroom with my kids (2nd grade!), and it’s amazing to watch them progress. I still believe that the TFA model is much more oriented to testing than to comprehension – I’m seeing this acted out in my classroom on a daily basis – but that’s another issue. I would really love to hear some outside perspectives on this. In the past two days, I have had two students expelled. Both are what I would consider to be “a handful,” but they were honestly my favorites. They tried so incredibly hard, and were making tremendous progress – in their work, and in their behavior. For the entire first week, D would only scowl at me when I made eye contact with her. We had just gotten to the point where she would smile at us, and she would get really excited about lessons. N was always, inevitably my most enthusiastic student of my class. I’d never seen a face light up as much as his when he stayed at the top of the consequence ladder for the entire day. They were always both among the highest scorers on all of my assessments, and what’s more than anything, they were becoming proud of themselves when they performed good work and good behavior. Why would anyone take that away from them? For a jacket thrown on the floor and a torn-up note. Here is an e-mail I just sent my CMA. Mind you, these kids are 7 and 8 years old.

Hey (CMA),

I’ve been mulling over this all of yesterday and today and I am really upset that D and N were expelled from school. To be perfectly honest, I can acknowledge the fact that my perspective is limited to my experience of D and N in the classroom, but right now I really believe that they were both expelled for frivolous reasons. And above everything else, I cannot understand (and I’ve tried) why expulsion is beneficial or in the best interest of either child, or of anyone, for that matter.

I don’t know how much you know about the situation with either student, but I am particularly uncomfortable with how we dealt with the incident that led to D’s expulsion. Early last week D came to school in a heavy winter coat that (FA – faculty advisor) insisted she remove. D was resistant, but she finally took her coat off and was upset, and it was very clear as to why – she was wearing a torn-up, adult size “wifebeater” that did not cover her body in any appropriate way at all. We pinned her shirt up and went on. Everyday after that it was the rule that everyone had to take off any coats or jackets at the beginning of class. On Monday D came into class and refused to take off her coat again. After D received a warning on the consequence ladder, A (collaborative teacher) walked over to her and demanded that she take her coat off. I personally think her tone was more forceful and emotional than the situation called for, especially considering the fact that we knew D may actually have a reason to want to keep her coat on, besides sheer defiance. A may or may not agree that the tone/force of her demand was a little off key- she was upset about the situation as well, and I didn’t think it would benefit anyone if I brought it up that I did not agree with how she approached the situation. D, in response, took her coat off and threw it to the ground – a response that I think was equally in tune in force and emotion to the request being made of her. At this point, FA stood up and told D that she’d had enough, that we were in charge, and that she was expelled from school.

I wasn’t present for the incident with N, but as far as it has been explained to me by FA, it did not involve any sort of physical violence and it was not hindering the learning of any other students.

Honestly, I am having a very difficult time with a few things: first, with the fact that we, as a collaborative, are the ones who interact with these students on the most consistent, daily basis and we were not consulted at all before the decision was made to expel them. Expulsion may not seem like a significant decision, considering that 2nd grade summer school is voluntary, but this summer was going to determine whether D and N were going to be held back or whether they would move forward to third grade. Unfortunately, being held back comes along with a stigma that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. They were both making tremendous progress in our class – both behaviorally and academically. They were among the highest scoring students in my own class – they both tried so, so hard for us, and they were the two who, of the entire class, needed to be there the most.

If someone can tell me what good their expulsion is doing for either of them or for anybody, I would be willing to hear it. I suspect the argument on the part of the school would be that they were taking away from other students who actually wanted to learn, but I can testify to the fact they neither of them caused any more of a disturbance than any other student has at one point or another.

I also understand that we are already in something of a tenuous relationship with (school), and some may not think it is our place to question their decisions about their own right to expel students. I really do understand that for any progress to occur, a certain balance and respect needs to be maintained between the corps and the schools in which we work, but I can’t stand for letting these kids slip through the cracks. It really might just be that I need to hear a different perspective, and maybe someone can help me understand how their expulsion is beneficial in any way, to anyone. But from where I am right now, I believe that someone needs to advocate for these kids, and the only reason I can think of to let this go unquestioned is simply to keep the peace. And honestly, for me, that’s not a reason at all.

I know that ultimately this really is the school’s prerogative, but if no one with TFA believes that expulsion is the best for these kids (which is really why we are here, for the kids), I think the least we can do is talk to (FA) and (principal) and offer our perspective. It would be a disservice to D and N, and the mission of TFA, if we didn’t at least try to stand up for what we believe. Is there anyone who can give me some more information on these students’ circumstances? Thanks, (CMA), for your support, as always!

-ragamuffin and barefoot

4 Responses

  1. Alison

    This situation sounds silly (in a sad way). My main comment is about your last post, though. I disagree with the CMA’s justification that basically the behaviorist model is better in low-income schools with high stakes testing. My education courses have discussed the effects of poverty on academic achievement, and it’s actually the tendency of schools/teachers in high poverty areas to emphasize rote learning that is one of the main factors in why poor students are often low-achieving. I do think, “everything in moderation” when it comes to teaching, and I believe that you can have a very highly structured and planned classroom (which is what I’ve found my students lack in other parts of their lives and need) at the same time that you implement largely constructivist lessons and build higher order thinking skills. I think the best constructivist lessons are those that are within a larger scheme of backwards planning and have been extensively planned themselves (i.e. you’ve thought of all of the possible ideas students might bring up, you have a specific objective you’ll be driving at, etc.). It’s tough, but it’s my plan this year! good luck to you!

  2. ragamuffin

    Hey Alison,

    Thanks for your comments – I absolutely agree with you about the CMA’s justification. Here’s one more perspective from a friend on that comment. This one might be a little controversial but it’s worth thinking about:

    He or she was basically saying that constructivist learning doesn’t work for poor kids, and since TFA recruits teach mostly poor kids, then TFA doesn’t train their recruits to be constructive educators. That’s really dangerous. The CMA is basically saying that we can teach the rich kids to use ideas and think for themselves, but we have to teach the poor kids to follow orders. There is a lot of racism and classism behind what that CMA wrote. What’s more, that seems like a HUGE waste of TFA resources. That is, with all of the highly-motivated, very intelligent recruits TFA has, why not encourage all of you to enliven children and help them to raise themselves out of their bad situation. As it is, TFA is teaching you to perpetuate the status quo.

  3. Alison

    Definitely. After I’d posted I realized one could sum it up in the lingo…low expectations. Your point about wasting human resources made me think, too. I’m not really thrilled about teaching anymore (understatement) for a number of reasons (basically, I just realized I don’t want to be on stage and around kids and so constrained by stupid rules, I strongly dislike my region, and I have other passions I’m eager to pursue), but one of the main reasons is that it just got to be very boring for me once it felt at all “easy.” Just telling little kids totally basic info all day long is not so fun–I don’t care what people say about making guided practice interesting…no–especially for the ones who aren’t developmentally there and you have to stuff it down their throats. Now, I’m not going to get the amount of intellectual stimulation I desire in life teaching first grade, but I feel that with more 6-year-old-intellectual lessons, it will make teaching at least somewhat more satisfying for me, as well as the students. And it’ll put all of us to better use.

  4. CMA

    Check out Project Follow Through, a federally funded research project– the largest ever to find out how to best teach underpriviledged children.

    There is a lot of research out there on how constructivism in schools with low-income or underpriviledged (however the PC way to say it) children actually lowers achievement.

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