COMMUNITY VOICES | What REALLY happens in Twin Cities schools and how the postcard propaganda misses the mark


Dear Better Ed:

I live in Minneapolis and have gotten two of your postcards.  The photo on the first one (with the hoodie)  I found inappropriate and offensive. Perhaps your could have pulled it off successfully with different print on the reverse.  I think your second one may interest more people.   I certainly checked out your website as it was more intriguing.  But most of the language there has to do with school funding (being way too much) and Minnesota teacher pay (ditto).  Then of course I see the return address of Chaska and go humph! and roll my eyes a bit.   

The writer sent the TC Daily Planet a copy of her email to Better Ed, and gave permission to publish it. 

I am a teacher in the largest urban school in the metro area.  We have the highest poverty ratio (over 90%), highest ELL ratio index also.  On the other hand, we have an extended school day, this last class of the day being funded by a grant.  This longer school day gives students a second math class (2 hours 40 min. of math total daily.)  We are a “celebration school” as a result, off the “naughty AYP list” for a while anyway.  I take this favorable designation lightly.  

I, alas, am a reading teacher.  And we do not have the same gains (nor time spent) in reading.  Though all content classes, even science, are making some changes and doing all they can to increase reading scores (even when their classes are large, upper 30s, and have a wide variety of students, including very low ELL which used to be “sheltered”, and level 3 special education students also previously sheltered, to perhaps I am guessing a few students who are at or even above grade level.  I try to be an optimist.  (But please, do not talk to me about data and/or “digging deep” into data.  I even need to turn off NPR then.)  

Yes, obviously I agree (how could I not?!?)  Minnesota has a racial gap much worse than other similar urban areas. This continues to mystify me.  Yet I DO NOT think that decreasing spending, or fast-tracking teachers to licensure, or more charter schools is the answer.  It seems to me that there is a BLARING total lack of understanding on your part regarding the complexity of the issue.   There is also talk about home ownership among people of color in MN lagging behind other states.  Is this ONLY AND TOTALLY the fault of crappy, over-paid teachers?  I know it is not.  This is a complex socio-economic racial societal issue.  

I have had support reading classes as large as 42 and gasp!  48!  ….with 8 EBD  (Emotionally Behaviorally Disorder) special ed boys. Keep in mind that ALL of my students, being in a support class, are below grade level!   Just me and my magic wand, alone.  So when you blame teachers, I take strong offense.  I’d REALLY like to see you in my shoes, asking these young people to do what they do not want to do, for an extended period of time.   With no consequences if they do not comply (which of course they know.)  

But…  let me tell you about student “L.”  After MONTHS of outright defiance and disruption, she is doing (some) homework, passed her last curriculum test, and even this week volunteered to read a paragraph to the whole class!!  This is a true miracle!  Phone calls home have not been returned.  I am sure she is just surviving, on her own.  

I am often reminded that I should not be judgmental.  One parent who called me back a couple weeks ago called from a battered women’s shelter.  Another parent who came in for a conference a week ago is a single father with four children.  No wonder his daughter has been acting out.  She has a broken heart, feeling abandoned, and truly is physically abandoned by her mother.  Another mother apologized to me on the phone because she has been working nights and is unable to oversee her daughter’s bedtime and homework completion, but she will try and follow through as best she can.  

And then I must tell you that even “L,” after her moderate “success” in my class last Friday, threw a chair violently across the room in a later class and will hence miss some school as a result.  I know this teacher across from me hall.  She is a saint, doing the homework help.  Are you going to blame her now?  I would very much also like to see you in her shoes.  It brings a smile after just reaching for the kleenex, thinking about L.  

Did you know that MN has one of the worst counselor ratios compared to the whole nation?  1 per 500 (at least!) in my school!  

I am quite sure if I was born on the Rosebud Reservation my life would have been COMPLETELY different.  No.  I was lucky enough to have been born white and I had a few other lucky draws.  Never mind that our mom died when I was a baby and our dad was a chronic, oft-unemployed alcoholic.  I always had the benefit of appearances and somewhere to seek help on occasion.  These historically generational economic racial issues are huge and it is a blind assumption to blame just the schools and teachers.  I wish some of your rhetoric, funds, and energy was placed elsewhere.  

Sincerely, angry yet reaching out,

Kari Johnson     


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