Saturday, June 22, 2019

Jessica Gentry's Lament

Have you heard about Jessica Gentry? Ms. Gentry just resigned her position as kindergarten teacher in an elementary school in Virginia. She is going to stay at home to care for her own child.

In departing she penned something like a Facebook manifesto. It has gone “viral,” as they say, and this tells us that she has struck a resonant chord. She offers a raw view about the state of today’s children and explains why elementary school teaching has become an impossible profession.

So, she is leaving teaching, a profession she loves. The problem, she begins, is the way children are brought up:

Let me tell you why those who ooze passion for teaching are leaving the occupation like their hair is on fire....

1. The old excuse "the kids have changed". No. No friggin way. Kids are kids. PARENTING has changed. SOCIETY has changed. The kids are just the innocent victims of that. Parents are working crazy hours, consumed by their devices, leaving kids in unstable parenting/coparenting situations, terrible media influences... and we are going to give the excuse that the KIDS have changed? What did we expect them to do? Kids behave in undesirable ways in the environment they feel safest. They test the water in the environment that they know their mistakes and behaviors will be treated with kindness and compassion. For those "well behaved" kids--they're throwing normal kid tantrums at home because it's safe. The kids flipping tables at school? They don't have a safe place at home. Our classrooms are the first place they've ever heard 'no', been given boundaries, shown love through respect. Cue "the kids have changed".

She makes two points. First, children are suffering from parental neglect. Does anyone nowadays declaim in favor of parents, especially mothers spending more time with their children? Not that I have noticed.

She adds her observation that children’s family lives are chaotic and unstructured. The era of the stable home led by married parents, functioning efficiently and effectively has ended.

It is not a good thing.

Second, she calls out parents for not disciplining their children. Shades of the Tiger Mom…. Gentry is saying that children who never learn discipline at home are going to be undisciplined at school. If they do not respect authority at home they are not going to respect a teacher’s authority. Then, they will learn nothing.

Gentry continues to suggest that today’s parents believe that technology can solve it. They want to provide children with more techno gadgets. That will solve the problem. This is nonsense, because the gadgets are mere distractions, designed to relieve parents of their responsibility to care for their children.

This produces a situation where children do not know how to get along with other people, with other children or with other adults. Gentry is not the first to notice, and will not be the last, but she is saying that these children do not know how to hold conversations. One suspects that they do not know how to play together either. They do not know how to follow social rules and to read social cues.

She continued:

2. In the midst of all of this... our response is we need to be "21st Century" schools. 1 to 1 student to technology. Oh. Okay. So forget the basics of relationship building and hands on learning. Kids already can't read social cues and conduct themselves appropriately in social settings... let's toss more devices at them because it looks good on our website. During an interview, one division asked me "how are you with technology? That's important to us". Uhhh... I hear Bobo the chimpanzee is pretty tech savvy... I consider myself pretty great with kids.

And, parents are incapable of keeping their commitments. Dereliction rules their lives. Don't look surprised. They do not respond to notes from the teacher, do not show up for field trips, and do not bother to explain themselves. In other words, parents do not have adult social skills and wash their hands of their children’s educations… except when they insist that teacher is not allowed to say “no” to their children:

4. Instead of holding parents accountable... and making them true partners, we've adopted a customer service mindset. I've seen the Facebook rants about attendance and getting "the letter". Well, here's the thing... I can't teach your child if he's not in school. I was cussed out by parents who wanted to attend field trips but missed the THREE notes that went home--and when they did attend a trip, sat on their phone the entire time. I've had parents stand me up multiple times on Conference Days then call to tattle on me when I refused to offer an after school option. I've had parents tell me that I'm not allowed to tell their child 'no'....

That is not all. In our multicultural multivariate world children come to school speaking different languages. And of course, teachers must also include children with disabilities, presumably children who cannot keep up with the lessons and who disrupt class. Gentry mentions the point in passing, but I suspect that policies that have filled classrooms across the nation with the children of illegal migrants bear some responsibility for some of the mess.

Gentry describes that situation:

Watching them come in... dirty clothes... chaos at home... and knowing they need more than you can give them in a classroom of 21, with less and less support, multple [sic] languages spoken, several different disabilities... it breaks you. We become emotional eaters. We become couch potatoes to zone out. We become so short fused that our families suffer.

Now, Gentry is going to become a full time mother. We can read between the lines and conclude that the stress of trying to teach under impossible conditions caused her to be less involved with her own child:

I decided to start with my 1 at home... and work to help other mommas be able to show up for their ones at home. Because... I really do believe it starts there. I found something that allows me to impact the environments that those 21 go home to. I found something that I can make an impact with... that doesn't leave my tank empty, rendering me useless for others..

A remarkable post, one that we ought to take seriously, one that we rarely hear.


trigger warning said...

A local 2018 Buffalo NY news article asserts that 84 languages are spoken in the Buffalo Public Schools. "[T]here is a 43 percent dropout rate and only a 26 percent graduation rate among these students." Expecting school districts to shoulder UN-style language burdens and teach math is just, well, stupid. And, of course, the Diversity Police will sue to ensure that literature classes include Zambian folk tales and Syrian poetry.

On the positive side, we have more pavilions at CultureFest and the nail salons are well-staffed.

Webutante said...

This is a brilliant post by Jessica Gentry. And you for calling our attention to it. It's obvious and has been for decades but can't be stated enough. Our world is in a downward spiral of denial and immaturity

The only thing I might add is that this generation of parents are the products of massive affluence---whether real or through increasing debt---the likes of which the world has never known. So affluence begets decadent and undisciplined parenting. I can't imagine what a world of ever increasing stunted growth adolescents might be like. Scary to say the least.

Sam L. said...

Telling it like it is, and it sounds that way to me.