In Cause and Effect, Part One: The Effect, I detailed how an emotionally volatile 13-year-old terrorized my class and led the principal to initiate a series of unpleasant events. These were outcomes of a long-standing pattern of behavior, but the administrators’ behavior rather than the student’s behavior. I’ve learned that these practices are relatively commonplace in NYC schools.
On to the cause…
I received an email over the summer with my class schedule. I knew I had been assigned to teach foreign language to seventh grade after six years of teaching high school foreign language. The email added an important detail. The administrators found a loophole in the rules requiring two teachers in ICT classes. The Assistant Principal told me that I would not, after all, be team-teaching two of my classes.
So what is an ICT class and why does it matter? New York City schools make an effort to teach students with individualized education programs (students considered “special education”) in the least restrictive environment possible. The Department of Education creates classes of middle school students that integrate divergent learners with general education students. These classes contain up to 40% students with disabilities and 60% general education students. Since the concentration of students with IEPs is so high, the state requires that two teachers team-teach the class in order to provide adequate support and attention to each student. Although one teacher is a general education teacher in the class content area and the other is a special education teacher, both teachers share in the planning and execution of each lesson and work with all students in the class.
When the vice principal emailed me, the message outlined the discovery that the administration could get out of the co-teaching regulation if it could prove that budget constraints prevented the school from offering co-teaching in non-core classes. (Core classes include English, mathematics, social studies, and science.) The school chose that year to move some classroom teachers into administrative roles, and therefore couldn’t afford two teachers in foreign language. The administrators didn’t seem to take into account that the majority of students with IEPs had language-based learning challenges, and the frustration of learning a second language caused them to act out more than in other classes. The co-teacher with whom I had planned to work emailed me right away to tell me about the school’s history on this front.
Two years previous, a foreign language teacher found herself alone in an ICT class. A student went ballistic and injured her. She went to the union with the situation and the school fought back. The two other teachers in the department stood up for the teacher, and the school went against them as well. Of the three teachers in the department, one lost her license, one left teaching, and one left the school to teach a different subject area.
I was one of the three replacements, and I taught high school my first year in the school. My department mate in the middle school found herself pushed by a student in one of these classes while pregnant. At the end of that school year, she and the lower-level foreign language teacher in the high school left teaching.
When George brought mayhem to my classroom, I was alone in an ICT class. I left teaching after that year, while the principal forced out a brand-new teacher (to cover up the school’s failure to support her pedagogically). Only one foreign language teacher remains at that school, and she is moving on to another school.
The cause of the chaos, the ruined careers, the injuries, and the criminal records for 13-year-olds lies in the hands of the school’s administrators. They know that co-teachers together have difficulties keeping ICT classes in core subject areas moving forward. They know it’s against regulations for one teacher to teach alone when the students need and deserve heightened support. I know they’re aware of this, because they never removed the co-teacher’s name from my rosters despite several reminders to do so.
Still, when the principal called me to the office to berate me after observing 5 minutes of my class the day after George’s incident, the blame was put squarely on me. The union representative, who accompanied me to this meeting, asked, “Was this an ICT class?” The principal hemmed and hawed, saying that foreign language wasn’t a core subject area and wasn’t coded in the same way. I clarified that, codes aside, the class traveled together throughout the day. The very same students in my eighth period class were the students who had two teachers in English, Social Studies Science, and Math. In short, the makeup of the ICT class did not change when they walked into my classroom.
In the span of three years, the administrators in my school caused perilous situations for teachers and students, set the stage for students to cultivate criminal records, and cut short seven teaching careers. All of the teachers in the school know this happens, but they cannot safely stand with their colleagues.
I’m not a fan of George. He put my babies in danger and assaulted me twice. Regardless, his actions were the result of a trajectory determined by the adults around him. He needed more structure, more attention, and more support. His school did him wrong, and instead of bringing him forward academically, the school allowed him to slip away into a brand-new identity as an emotionally-impaired student with a high probability of future criminal justice involvement. Perhaps if the school converted fewer teachers into administrators that year, George’s behavior would have met with intervention early on and things would have turned out differently for him.
I moved on to bigger and better things after teaching. The first-year teacher who left with me found a teaching job in another state. I think Gorge is 15 now, and I hope he has made progress with his shift to a dedicated special education school for emotionally-impaired students.
I have learned in the past two years that my school was not alone in assigning a sole teacher to teach foreign language in ICT classes. A taxi driver, a few colleagues, and several people with whom I’ve conversed in social situations in the recent past have told me similar stories about their children’s schools. While people complain about zero tolerance (which I’ve never encountered in 7 years of teaching) and the stress that standardized testing puts on children, I rarely hear people getting up in arms about the lack of support for students who require more attention, structure, and guidance.
New York City houses the largest school district in the country. It seems quite impossible to get the entire district on the same page and following the same regulations. I wish I could point to one practice that would effectively solve this problem, but the issue is too complex. It is my fervent hope that the city might try some of the following courses of action:
- Visit schools without prior warning to make sure that ICT classes are taught as they are coded (and that one of the teachers isn’t assigned to other duties at the time of the ICT classes).
- Confidentially survey foreign language teachers, art teachers, and physical education teachers to determine the extent of this issue.
- Urge administrators to cut foreign language from their middle schools (the state only requires one year of foreign language by 12th grade) if they cannot afford co-teachers for their ICT foreign language classes.
- Crack down on the practice of creating two classes (one a Special Education class and one a general education class) that share the same subject, teacher, room, and time. This seems to be the high-school equivalent of assigning an ICT class to a sole teacher.