Megan Zander at She Knows wrote a post with this headline: Teacher’s aggressive note on 7-year-old’s homework goes viral, and many of the comments are critical of teachers and schools for what the alleged teacher wrote in red ink – the title of this post.
First, I was a public school teacher for thirty years, and I required my students to write their first and last name on every written assignment in addition to the period they were in and the date. When they didn’t write all that information, I wrote in aggressive red ink explaining to them why they lost some points from what the assignment was worth.
How can I justify being so aggressive? Well, I worked with almost 200 students in five or six classes often working 60 to 100 hours a week—25 hours teaching and the rest correcting work and planning lessons (not counting all the usually useless meetings teachers have to attend). All the work had to also be done in blue or black ink. Why would I have an aggressive rule like that? Well, the English department voted on it, and it was unanimous, because it made our jobs easier. Work written in pencil was more difficult to read and correct and teachers are correcting papers every night for several hours a night and on the weekends. To make sure my students knew this aggressive rule, there were large posters on the walls in my classroom reminding them that the work had to be done in blue or black ink, and I reminded them daily at the start of every written assignment.
For those reasons, when my students turned in work written in pencil, I wrote in aggressive red ink that if they wanted to earn credit for that assignment, they’d have to do it over in blue or black ink and turn it in the next school day.
Oh, and there were always kids who didn’t even bother to write their name on an assignment. Guess what happened to that work.
Without knowing all the details I will NOT condemn the ONE teacher who wrote that note in aggressive red ink or—for that matter—the entire education system in the United States.
Why am I refusing to rush in where so many fools have already gone?
The answer is simple—in the United States there are more than 3.5 million public school teachers, more than 15,000 public school districts in 50 states (the states are supposed to be responsible for public education—not the US Congress, the White House, a corporation or a CEO) teaching 50+ million children (not counting the territories), and to use this one incident to condemn everyone else in the public school systems that are not a monopoly is wrong on so many counts.
In fact, corporations build monopolies. Public schools with community based democratic school boards that are state controlled by 50 states are not monopolies. The public school system is made up of more than 15,000 individual school districts that are controlled by the local communities through elected democratic school boards that answer to the voters/parents.
- What kind of school did this teacher work for?
- What kind of teacher training did this teacher have—TFA, traditional or a full-time, yearlong urban residency?
- Was this teacher under contract or a substitute teacher with no teacher training?
- How many years has this teacher been in the classroom?
- Was the school an underfunded, transparent, community-based, democratic, non-profit public school, a private school, or an autocratic, opaque, boot-camp like (see Success Academy), for profit (no matter what you call the school) corporate Charter school paid for by taxpayers but allowed to do whatever the CEO/manager of the school wants behind closed doors, and if a parent complains, the child is often kicked out of the school?
- What state was it in—was it in Florida, Ohio or one of the other states where the public schools are under threat of a hostile takeover by corporate America?
If this teacher worked in a community based, democratic school, then there should be an elected school board and if those elected representatives, who are mostly parents from the same community, want to do something about the eleven words this teacher wrote in aggressive red ink, then they will, because that is the democratic process when it comes to public schools.
But if this child was in a corporate Charter school there is very little that can be done, because parents have no rights in those schools, teachers live in fear because they have no job protection, and these schools have no elected school boards to complain to. In corporate Charters if a parent doesn’t like the school, their child will often quickly find themselves out on the streets or back in an underfunded public school if there are any left.
A Brenda Hatcher seems to have spread this note on Facebook, and she alleges that the mother is a military veteran. I am also a military veteran. I served in the U.S. Marines and fought in Vietnam before I went to college on the GI Bill and eventually became a public school teacher for 30 years. I’d like to talk to this alleged military mother.
Megan Zander’s conclusion said, “After all, a child who’s willing to bend the rules in school could grow up to be the one who makes the rules.”
I shuddered at the thought that children who bend the rules will end up being our leaders.
I hope Megan might want to know why I shuddered at that thought. Megan, did you know that the professions with the most psychopaths in them are the ones who make the rules?
Which Professions Have the Most Psychopaths? The Fewest? – Time.com
- CEOs and lawyers belong to the profession with the most psychopaths alongside journalists and police officers.
- Teachers are on the list for the professions with the least number of psychopaths alongside nurses, doctors and charity workers.
Megan Zander is a former divorce attorney—a lawyer—turned SAHM to twin boys. She’s written for The Stir, Scary Mommy, Rare.us, Mommyish and Bustle.
BLAME IT ON THE TEACHER AS USUAL
Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, with a BA in journalism and an MFA in writing,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).
To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”
September 23, 2015 at 11:02
Reblogged this on David R. Taylor-Thoughts on Education.
September 23, 2015 at 14:15
Reblogged this on Lloyd Lofthouse.
September 28, 2015 at 14:34
There are “rules” that are important, such as safety rules, and “rules” that are arbitrary, such as writing your name in cursive rather than printing it, which some adults even prefer. As a Kindergarten and grammar school teacher for 4 years before becoming a University Professor for 30+ years, I have to disagree with your stance, though of course, I realize you’ll probably not agree with mine. I never graded with red because of its negative connotations, always wrote something positive on each paper, gave the student one thing to work on, then ended with another positive thing, even if it were only that it was in the correct format. Having had teachers attempt to squash and murder my own individuality and creativity throughout my school years, I tried to encourage it in my students. Of course, if a paper had no name, I’d grade it, then ask the owner to claim it so I could record grades. But then, I also passed out written instructions for all who could read, in the format they were to follow. If they didn’t follow the correct format, I just handed them another copy. No need to be bullies to students.
September 28, 2015 at 17:10
At what age do you think a person should learn the lessons failure teaches us—18 or 21?
Holding children accountable to rules is not being a bully. Do you know how most people learn to succeed—they failed first and then if they do not fear failure, they pick themselves up and learn from their mistakes and either succeed the next time or get a little closer to success one step at a time. For instance, back in the early 1980s, I worked for a wealthy, successful man who had gone bankrupt 7 times before he finally achieved what he wanted in business. Maybe most people who give up on their dreams and fear failure as adults had too many teachers making it easy for them to succeed. When children never fail becasue someone doesn’t want them to feel bad, how do they learn?
My family lived in poverty when I was born. My dad was an alcoholic who finally quit drinking in his early 50s. My older brother spent 15 years of his life in prison by the time he died at 64. Both of our parents dropped out of high school at age 14 and supported themselves. They never gave up.
As a child, I lived with the threat of death from a virus that was attempting to destroy my heart. Thanks to a good doctor, that battle came out in my favor. When I was seven, my mother was told that I was retarded and that I would never learn to read (they didn’t know about dyslexia back then). My mother had help from my 1st grade teacher and my mother taught me how to read at home. I learned something from my family and the U.S. Marines where i went rough out of high school. I learned that no matter how many times you fail, you pick yourself up, learn what you did wrong—no matter how you feel—and you keep taking one step in front of the other. My life has a trail of failures behind it and I never let that stop me moving forward toward my dreams or goals. I never expected anyone else to make my dreams come true. I never asked God to do it for me either.
10 Signs You Might Have a Fear of Failure
In the classes I taught, the only way a child earned a failing grade was to not do enough of the work that helped them learn. Grades in my classes did not come from tests, they came from the assignments and the most important assignments could be done over repeatedly—if they were turned in on time—until a child earned an A if that’s what she wanted to work toward. Some did and most didn’t.
Self esteem can’t be manufactured by over caring adults who want to shelter children from failure, pain, hurt, hard work, etc. Self esteem must be acquired learned as part of growing up.
October 1, 2015 at 08:52
I think children should learn from failure as early as possible. Maybe age 3?
But learning from failure is not the same as “punishing” children for not writing in cursive, which is such an arbitrary rule, especially now that computers, laptops, and tablets are filling the classrooms. My students used to complain that they had to type their papers, while other teachers used to whine that they couldn’t get their students to “comply” with the typed paper “request.”
Over-caring? Never been called that before.
Have a great day, Lloyd.
October 1, 2015 at 09:25
What if the teacher was teaching the children how to print and cursive wasn’t part of the lesson? In addition, correct me if I’m wrong, but we do not have enough details in this teacher bashing post. We don’t know if it is a private school, a parochial school, a corporate charter school or a public school. We don’t even know what state it’s in. We also don’t know if the teacher is a TFA recruit, a substitute, a new teacher with less than five years of experience or a veteran who has taught twenty or more years.
I taught for 30 years—counting my first year as a paid intern in 1975-76 in an urban residency program where I worked full time in a master teacher’s fifth grade classroom in a school where the childhood poverty rate was higher than 90%.
And then there’s this: “Cursive writing is usually taught in third grade, when students are about 8 years old. At this age, most children are assumed to possess the skills necessary to master cursive writing.”
My first year in school in kindergarten at age 5 was in a Catholic parochial school and if the nuns told us to print and we didn’t, the nun whacked the students across the knuckles with a ruler. As I recall—that was a long time ago—we stated out as a class learning to print because cursive would come later, and if my print wasn’t perfect, my knuckles were whacked and if I was whacked again for the same infraction, I had to go to the corner where there was a place to kneel and say a hundred Hail Marys. After being whacked a few times, my printing became perfect.
Fortunate for me as a six year old, my dad’s union went on strike and he ended up losing his job several months later when the strike ended, and my parents could no longer afford the parochial school so I ended up in a public school—and the knuckled whacking stopped and so did the Hail Marys. But my printing and cursive was always sloppy and still is today.
Jann @ AustinDetails.me
October 3, 2015 at 11:47
And then there are the school systems (like one here close to Austin, in Texas) that elect to no longer teach cursive to children. So they wouldn’t be able to read those aggressive red notes from cursive-writing teachers. Then what?
October 3, 2015 at 12:16
Even without cursive, I’m sure that there will always be an opportunity for a teacher to write those “aggressive” red notes. For instance, “I have warned you to stop putting used chewing gum in the disk drives. You have had several warnings.”
That example came from my experience working in the reading lab as a period sub—I was full time and they asked me to give up my planning period because they had no one to teach that class—and that’s when I discovered from the adult aide who assisted the absent teacher in that class that most of the computers in that computer assisted reading lab had been sabotaged with wads of gum in disk drives, stolen balls from the mice, and missing keys from the keyboards. And replacements for those mice balls are not cheap.
Here’s an “aggressive” red note I could have written at the high school where I taught: “Stop throwing spark plugs at other students when I turn my back on the class to write something on the board. You have had several warnings.” That’s from a real event but I couldn’t catch who was doing it, and those spark plugs were moving fast. Eventually, I called the auto shop teacher and we compared rosters to discover the culprits, and then I let him handle it so the auto shop teacher probably wrote the “aggressive” red note.
I think a teacher could also send an “aggressive” red note in an e-mail if they can change the font to bold red.
Then there was this other 9th grade boy I can’t forget who always did something to get attention like the day the lesson was going great—he never did the work or followed directions—and without warning he loudly interrupted and said, “I wonder what its like to have sex with an elephant.” That ended the great lesson, one of those rare days where everything seemed to be working perfectly. Imagine that aggressive red note: “Stop asking what it would be like to have sex with an elephant. You have had several warnings.”
October 4, 2015 at 11:50
Reblogged this on adaratrosclair.
October 4, 2015 at 16:32
I have followed you, Lloyd, since I have found you (on Ravitch’s blog). Your comments on your post here (and so many others) have changed my life.
I have been living with a Vietnam Veteran now for only 2 years. Many variables. YOU are teaching ME much.
I am also a public school employee in MI ( and all that…).
Just to let you know I am always listening. To so many authentic insights from your posts.
I’ll try to click the buttons now to see if you receive my grateful reply.
21st century skills?
What are those?
I know you know.
I will bow to your wisdom. But not to__________________!
October 4, 2015 at 17:58
If you are living with a Vietnam Veteran, then I want to share with you a book I recently edited for a younger vet who was in Special Forces and fought in Somalia.
I wish Robbie’s book was out now so you could read it. His struggles with PTSD have been monumental, and while he was learning to manage it, he decided to write a book about it to help other vets and their famlies and friends to learn all about those buttons, or triggers, that can set us off, and after editing his book, “Next Mission”, I think it does that. He is revising the rough draft after getting feedback from his Beta readers and hopefully it will be out soon.
As for pressing buttons or touching those triggers that sets us off, the VA offers support groups for family members.
The only 21st century skills I know is how to use a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smart phone to access the Internet for information and to use for social media purposes. The rest of it is BS. The only skills anyone NEEDS to fit into the 21st century is to read at a high level of literacy and to do that most people should be avid readers who love reading books.
Have you visited my Soulful Veteran Site?
October 4, 2015 at 18:18
Have I visited your Soulful Veteran Site? Yes, I have. Many times and continuing. Always, as long as I can afford it (thanks to what? “pension”? (or my ex-husband’s I was legally given? or my teaching pension?).
Are you saying that 21st century skills are about using a computer?
I guess I have enough of those skills to at least access your site.
I am concerned about those who do not have access.
October 4, 2015 at 18:44
Internet skills are important, but I think the high level of literacy that comes from being an avid reader who loves books is even more important. All this money being spent to destroy the public education system could have been spent to make sure every school had an adequate and up-to-date computer lab where every child could learn what’s out there and how to use it.
The internet is nothing but a more efficient way to find information and socially connect with others. From everything that I’ve read, the internet could easily vanish overnight, but whatever virus destroyed it isn’t going to delete a child’s literacy and love of books and we still have libraries with books printed on paper.
October 5, 2015 at 17:19
I agree, Lloyd. Internet skills are important. Internet skills are more efficient – than getting in the car or walking to a close proximity library or bookstore to read the books or even buy them to take them home to read.
You and I grew up without the “efficient way to find information and socially connect with others”.
“From everything that I’ve read, the internet could easily vanish overnight, but whatever virus destroyed it isn’t going to delete a child’s literacy and love of books…”, “AND (caps mine) we still have libraries with books printed on paper.”
Libraries (with books printed on paper) are vanishing (closed, or either only open 3 days a week).
Students learn to read from a computer program on a screen (thank you Bill Gates and those National Governors who copyrighted the CCSS). Maybe, just maybe, they are “the virus”.
How will children learn to love books, if most all of the books (and some if not all social connections with others) are on a computer screen? Well, they (and “we”) will learn to love books and social connections (and other things, like how to be an entrepreneur and such) online. All online. And we will learn to work a job in order to look at a screen for most of the hours in our daily lives in order just survive… online.
Do I want to “learn” about war?
Put me in front of a screen. Or draft me into the military.
Put me in front of a screen. Or draft me again or at the same time while learning about war.
Put me in front of a screen.
Put me in front of a screen.
Put me in front of a screen.
Put me in front of a screen.
Hey, I’m here in front of a screen!
I suppose I am just an experiential type of a person.
Let’s educate our children of the future “virtually” or “digitally” by teaching them to use the screen, instead of a book with a person right beside them. It’s more efficient.
But yes, we are in the 21st century, and our responsibility as teachers is to instruct the way we are told to instruct… efficiently… and on a computer.
I will apologize for my rant. I am frustrated with not seeing children learn because I am forced to force the students to learn by a methodology that I do not experience is helping them learn.
I am a Speech/Language Pathologist (Special Education). I have been “laid off” for the past year and half. Economics (budget cuts) was stated in the letter. I see the pain and frustration in the students.
I will go on.
Thank you, Lloyd.
October 5, 2015 at 18:11
I think I was fortunate to reach thirty years in the classroom in 2005 when I retired from teaching. When the internet comes crashing down, I think the country and culture that survives might will be the one that is the farthest behind in connecting to the internet. Hopefully, they will still have a few well stocked libraries.
We don’t need a computer virus to bring down the internet. One super solar storm can do it in one blow.