"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, May 02, 2014

KIPP Teacher Asks: "Would we let this happen if the students were white middle class?"

I interviewed a former KIPP teacher I will call Keith.  Keith was highly successful at KIPP for longer than most teachers last at any KIPP, which is 1-2 years.  Keith shared a great deal, and much of it I had heard from others:  the 80-100 hour weeks, the silent lunches, the incessant chanting, the compulsive attention to detail, the straight lines of uniformed students, the clipboard for keeping track of the token economy, kids staying as late as 7 PM at school to finish homework they had failed to finish the night before, the singular focus on closing the test score gaps, the loss of connections to others outside KIPP, the inevitable exhaustion that eventually takes over every fiber and synapse, the "team beats individual" mantra, the SLANTing, and the focus on total compliance discipline that regularly strays into the territory beyond professional practice.  

The first mention of abusive discipline came when I asked Keith if he would send his own child to a KIPP school.

R: Would I send my __________ to KIPP? Probably not but my ___________ has ­­­­­­­­­_________________, so I think a school that had a real focus on special education would be great for my _________.  If you’re asking it more esoterically, I’m not sure even if my _________ didn’t have any [disabilities] that I would do it.  Because having worked at KIPP I’ve watched teachers cross that line from, we’re disciplining you into, we’re tired and we’re humiliating you out of anger.  It happens.

INT:  Can you say more about that?

R:  . . . .yes discipline’s important and I will say now as a teacher I just don’t yell and part of that comes out of KIPP realizing how short term it is. 

But in terms of the humiliation, I know that I’ve seen it, I’ve slipped over, I’ve crossed that line, that’s part of why I don’t yell anymore. I’ve watched other teachers do it.  I talked about that zeal, there’s a bit of a mob mentality when you work for KIPP and it’s different at different schools.  Like in KIPP New York I’ve heard tales of teachers if a kid bucks up the teacher might push them a little bit, say hey go against this wall which would not be acceptable and probably is a fireable offense in a traditional public school, yet it works.  But then when it crosses that line to, you’re just angry and a kid has gotten on your last nerve, I’ve seen teachers just yell at a kid in their face, full blown yell, the kind of thing that I would not want done to my __________.  I think KIPP long term will have to deal with that issue of short-term discipline that works with 5th and 6th graders versus longer term stuff. . . .

Near the end of my recorded conversation with Keith, I asked the same last question I asked all those I interviewed, and he offered a response I had not expected:

INT: I just have one other question for you and that is do you have anything that you want to say that I haven’t asked you about? Anything that you thought you wanted to talk about, that you wanted to get off your chest that you wanted to say?

R:  Um, I have no agenda.  There are things I really liked about my time at KIPP; there are things that I wish I had changed.  Yeah, I think KIPP, I’m Caucasian, and depending on the school--KIPP Houston is mostly Hispanic, KIPP in ___________ was mostly African American.  I think there’s a broader question when you look at the heavy discipline of KIPP.  Would we let this happen if the students were white middle class?  Would we be okay with the yelling?  I’ve heard it criticized somewhat as KIPP is just producing robots, which I, I don’t think, there are some KIPPsters who have been amazing successes that have gone on to teach in KIPP schools.  I mean it’s been around long enough. But I think that’s a pretty valid question, is part of the reason that KIPP is allowed to get away with things that couldn’t be done in a traditional.  I mean the things I did at KIPP would get me fired at my school now.

INT:  What’s that?

R:  The yelling, I’ve watched a teacher slam a door and the glass broke.  I think that’s a question worth analyzing, how much is race in terms of we want to save our -- I don’t know if I’m saying that right.  But I know it’s a criticism I’ve heard that I thought myself and that came to my mind when you said would you put your _________ in a KIPP school, and I thought probably not. I don’t if that has anything to do with your research but sometimes it’s perhaps a broader question I think.

INT:  It has almost everything to do with my research.

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