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What, So What, Now What? # 1 (sorry this is long-- a lot happened!)

asweeney's picture

The What.

"What??!!!!" "What is happening here?" This is what went through my mind during my first overwhelming visit to Teacher S's classroom. (Don't worry--it gets better by visit # 3)

Teacher S teaches a kindergarten class in an urban elementary school in Philadelphia. She was supposed to have 19 children in her class. Because of the school closings this summer, however, she has 27 children and no aid. She has asked parents and grandparents to volunteer when possible. While I was there for the first visit, there was one parent there (1 hour) and one grandparent there (a different hour). My assumption that such a need for outside help reflects how even the best teachers need help in under-resourced school communities.

While the class sits on this carpet playing a name game, 2 children sit on a different carpet in a different area of the classroom with the parent helper. The teacher mentions to me that these children “are not ready to join the class yet.”The rest of the class moves to the other carpet area to review their letters and letter sounds. At this point, the two children and the parent helper are supposed to transition and switch carpets. This transition, to put it simply, did not go well. Child A and Child B start chasing each other around one of the work tables. The parent tries to get them to stop. Child B starts to scream. The rest of the class is being asked to listen to the ABCs but many are looking behind them at the behaviors or Children A and B instead.

Someone else comes into the classroom—I’ll call her Mary. I was not able to figure out her role in this scenario, but she came in several times during my visit. When Mary comes in, Teacher S stops reviewing the letters and talks over the sitting children about Children A and B. She says things like “ I can’t have another day like yesterday, Mary. Seriously, you have to help me out.” Mary mentions that she “is not allowed to take Children A and B out of the room because she is a volunteer…..but that she would absolutely take them out if she was allowed to” Child B starts to push Child A. Child A and Child B start running around and encroach on the area where students are “learning” their ABCs. Teacher S talks only to the class and pretends she is ignoring Children A and B. Parent helper has no control.

Children A and B start screaming again about how they don’t like school and will not be listening. Other kids look on. Child B takes the phone attached to the wall in the classroom and starts HURLING it against the wall. Child B starts to do the same with some books. Teacher S goes over to stop them. She has children in the class sit on the carpet and turns a movie on.

Child A comes over to the movie and starts hitting children on the head---hard!

Child B comes over to join, but teacher S picks up child B and takes her over to a different area of the classroom. Child B starts screaming and kicking and calling out to child A for help. Child A comes over and starts hitting the teacher to get Teacher S to let go of Child B. Mary has some role in this----seems like she went to get outside help? Meanwhile, the parent helper and I are trying to encourage children to watch the movie and stop looking behind them at the drama of yelling going on. Child A takes off his clothes and throws them on the carpet violently---he is now just in his underwear. Teacher S takes her phone and takes a photo secretly of this child with no clothes. (I assume this is to help her file some kind of report?)

Teacher S. emails me that night to let me know that Child A and B were both suspended.

So What? and Now What? In  class, we are talking about how technology can be used to augment the learning experience and help children learn. I imagine technology being used in an inclusion classroom to help differentiate the material (ie different kids play different levels of a math iPad game, but they all feel included and challenged the appropriate amount.) In this setting, however, the smart board was used as a much needed babysitter. It did not help with instruction. In fact, very little instruction actually took place while I was there

The poor teacher! She probably has such wonderful intentions in wanting to be a kindergarten teacher but is being asked to balance too many things!! My thought: teaching is such an underpaid profession! She is responsible for 27 bodies,  27 minds, differentiating their learning, dealing with behavior, and keeping children safe! In the business world, no one would be asked to take care of that many people at once.  I wonder about the administration role in this.  Where is the teacher’s support? And could technology really help this situation in a better way?

The poor children! I feel horrible for Child A and B, as they must really need attention if they feel like acting in this violent and aggressive manner. I also feel horrible for the children on the carpet. Kindergarten is supposed to be a time in which kids learn to LOVE learning. Instead, these kids are not learning but being babysat by a TV in a setting that probably feels very unsafe. In this scenario, technology is used as an attempt at distraction. It works for the most part, but certainly doesn't embody the wonderful ideas of McGonigal and Clark. Are we idealist in our class discussions about technology? Are there restrictions (like physical saftey) that make it impossible for technology to work in the beneficial ways that we imagine it could?

I’m curious to see how technology will be used in the classroom next week when such a crazy behavior incident is not occurring. I’m also curious to see if more differentiation will take place.



alesnick's picture

idealistic or aspirational?

Your story of this intense visit is . . . intense!  Safety is so vital to anything else being possible in a classroom.  Have you had a chance to talk with the teacher at all about this difficult day?

emmagulley's picture

This is such a dramatic

This is such a dramatic story--crazy that it was your very first visit to the classroom!

Part of what this story made me think of us budgets and grants.  If this school could afford smartboards in all of the classrooms, even kindergarten classrooms, I wonder if it would be more beneficial to the children and teachers to have instead hired an extra aid or teacher's assistant or something.  I think that sometimes schools like to be "up to date" with showy technology, but does technology always have to be the priority?  Between this school's understaffedness and another school's high-tech computer lab but lack of playground, I wonder what the greater cost of these technology grants is?  As we saw in the YouTube cartoon video, (Extra Creditz?), the way to beat a computer in chess is not to have one super computer, but rather, two individuals and a few lower-powered computers.  I think there's some paralells there: the importance of continued human emphasis in this new age of technology.

alesnick's picture

human+human+lower powered computer = !

Great connection to that video!  I think the human-computer partnership model, where humans use each others' brains as well as a machine to solve problems, could be very useful when thinking about resource choices in situations of limitation.

besanradwan's picture

Wow, this is so interesting.

Wow, this is so interesting. I have my placement at School X which is very privleged and has very few students in every classroom. It is quite disheartening to see the lack of support your teacher gets. I wonder if tecnology would enhance ro be a nuisance with all those kids?

alesnick's picture

computers helping with over-crowding?

I tweeted an article out recently about a teacher assigning half the class to computer games so she could focus with the other half, then switching . . .