Editorial counterpoint: 'Effective' teaching? First, meet basic needs

  • Article by: MELINDA BENNETT
  • Updated: July 23, 2014 - 6:03 PM

Look deeper to find root causes of underperforming students in Minneapolis schools.

 

I am a veteran teacher of 26 years in Minneapolis schools. My students are arguably those “underachieving” students of color who apparently (“Effective teachers for all? Yes, please,” editorial, July 22) are receiving an inferior education due to the poor teaching that they are encountering every day.

If good teaching is defined by test scores, then Minneapolis Caucasian students are clearly receiving a completely different educational experience than their nonwhite counterparts, despite spending the entire day rubbing shoulders and interacting in the same classrooms, doing the same activities and completing the same assessments.

On the ACT, white students in Minneapolis are within the three highest-achieving demographics of students in the state, outscoring charter, private and all public school students with the exception of two very wealthy western suburbs (http://apps.startribune.com/no_child/).

Are all of these students in our classrooms receiving subpar educations? Is it possible that the cause of the disparity between races is something other than the “quality” of the teacher?

I have yet to see the educational pedagogy that shows me how to teach the intricacies of the Krebs cycle to an angry young man who didn’t get breakfast, who is on his third school of the year because his family keeps moving and who comes to class without a pencil every single day.

How is this an indictment of the quality of my teaching?

So I provide him a pencil (I gave out over 700 last year); I allow him to eat his government-subsidized breakfast during class; I offer study sessions and tutoring and my own lunch time to meet with him to get him up to speed on the curriculum.

He is a child, and none of these circumstances are his own fault (except, possibly, his inability to keep track of a pencil).

Sad to say, the quality of my instruction is not going to make a bit of difference until his basic needs are met. All the experience and staff development in the world are going to have very little impact on his test scores.

When someone can show me a curriculum or approach that meets the social, economic, public health and parenting needs of my students, I’ll find thousands of qualified, motivated, creative teachers who are thirsting for that approach.

 

Melinda Bennett, of Plymouth, teaches science in the Minneapolis public schools.

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