As more details of what happened to Ritzer start to surface, I think about the material we covered in my Master’s program:
- How to write a five-part lesson plan
- The importance of regular parent contact (with role-play drills!)
- Basic methods of differentiated instruction for kids with learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, or who are learning English as a second language
- The highlight reel of classroom management/discipline skills (greet students as they walk in; post all rules and regulations in a visible spot)
- “Teachers can make a difference!”
…and the things I learned on the job:
- An idealistic young female teacher who wants to “make a difference” is a perfect target for a disturbed kid who wants to take his rage out on someone.
- Poverty — and its ugly little friends, substance abuse and domestic violence — have great bearing on child development and behavior.
- About 20% of parents are unreachable — emails bounce back; phone is disconnected; voicemails go unanswered.
- Some students emigrated recently from parts of the world where women are chattel.
- Some students have been marinating in ultra-violent, misogynistic American music and videos since early childhood.
- Some students have extensive criminal histories (teachers will not be informed of this).
- Some suffer from profound mental illnesses.
- Some are violent.
- Students whose behavior frightens a teacher – behavior which in any other workplace would result in legal action– won’t be permanently removed from the classroom. Students who use aggressive profanity, make sexual remarks, or use a cell phone to surreptitiously record/film a teacher will merely “have a talk” with an assistant principal and be sent back to class, emboldened. The teacher will be told that everything is now fine.
I didn’t know these things when I started teaching, and I was 35 with extensive life experience under my belt. Young teachers like Colleen Ritzer don’t know, either. They have huge hearts and they saw “Dangerous Minds,” plus they’ve been told by corporate educrats that kids’ success or failure depends entirely on teacher commitment and skill (no talking about poverty! That’s just making excuses!) Therefore, they enthusiastically and solemnly believe that sheer force of CARING can un-do everything that’s been done to a kid.
But caring can’t un-punch a child’s face. Caring go back in time and read to him when he was a baby. Caring can’t fix a shitty diet or cure asthma acquired from living in a roach-infested apartment.
Caring can’t heal a sociopath. The crazy ship has sailed, and once sailed, sails on.
So I wish that the truth about violent criminal juveniles was part of the Education curriculum. I wish that the truth about protecting ourselves as teachers was part of it too.
I wish that parents were legally liable for their children’s violent behavior at school, and that teachers enjoyed the same protections against workplace harassment and assault that other professionals do.
And I wish that the gifted and passionate Colleen Ritzer is the teacher who finally makes that difference.
But she won’t be here to know.