Like last year, I have some capital-A Angry Kids in my class. They are mistrustful and suspicious of everyone ("I don't need any friends, I don't trust nobody in this class"). They take everything as a personal affront or insult. They go out of their way to attract attention through every possible negative behavior: loud and frequent farting noises, banging on the table, kicking other kids' chairs, bumping the table so no one can write. And when asked to stop, they will tell you they weren't doing it even as they continue to do it.
Since winter break, our kids have been in "book clubs," reading the same book at the same pace so they can meet with each other and discuss the book. Now, imagine you're a capital-A Angry Kid. You hate books. You hate people. You hate being told what to do. Now you're in a book club. Perfect!
If you were to come to my classroom with the intention of watching my students chatter away in their book clubs, what you would probably witness instead in at least one corner of the room is someone getting Angry, kicking a chair or slamming a book down, and storming away from the group. Today it took me fifteen minutes just to determine that Marcelino hadn't finished his book, because he kept rolling his eyes and exclaiming, "Jesus Christ!" when I inquired whether or not he had done the reading. (He then went on to inform me in no uncertain terms that he had no intention of reading the rest.) Walter came to his book club meeting without his book and sat there for about twenty minutes; when Ms. Halpert told him to go get it, he got up, walked in a semi-circle around his chair, and sat back down. When I told him to go get it, he heaved himself up with a piercing "Okaaaaaaaaay!" Vanessa eloquently summed it up this way: "I hate school, I hate people, I hate reading, I hate reading to other people, I hate talking to people, I hate books..." I think it might have gone on from there, but honestly, I had heard enough.
I've been seeing that video clip of Cathie Black getting booed at the PEP meeting on Tuesday night and responding to the crowd's jeers with a sarcastic noise. I would love, love, love to see Cathie Black come into my classroom and demonstrate how to be one of those fantastic teachers she's always talking about, and show me how to raise the test scores of kids like my Angry Kids. I can be delivering the greatest lesson ever prepared in the most scholarly way ever, but if your hands are over your ears and you're rocking in the corner with your sweatshirt up over your head, that lesson is not going to reach you. I want someone like Cathie Black to acknowledge that quality teaching is only part of it, that one has to be a social worker and a psychologist and a guidance counselor and a parental figure all wrapped up into one.