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Mildly Melancholy responds to the great debate about her firing

The charter school teacher who goes by Mildly Melancholy first got our attention here when she was unceremoniously fired, in the middle of the school year, after struggling for months with what sounds like precious little support from administrators and fellow staff. Since then, she’s inspired a great debate in the comments section here about what it means to be a teacher, how to measure teacher quality, and whether urban teachers are asked to do too much.

And now, she’s emerged from a period of quiet on the subject of herself to respond to this raging debate. The long response she’s posted is worth a read, especially her disclosure that she’s the third teacher in the grade she taught to be dismissed from this particular school. (Maybe she’s not the one to blame here.)

Here are some other highlights from the robust conversation Mildly Melancholy started.

Commenter Schooldays, who thinks urban schoolteachers are asked to do too much:

We all know the multiplicity of problems many students are burdened with and then find their way into our classrooms. But it does not necessarily follow that teachers should be designated the ones that have to deal with these problems. Teachers are not trained child psychologists nor social workers nor should they be. They should not have to work through these problems with students in order to get to the point where learning can begin. While it may be convenient (and cheap) for a society to say: “Since all of these children are in one place and at one time (schools), let them handle it (whatever the problem(s) happens to be).”, it is inappropriate to saddle a learning environment (learning community) with issues better handled by trained experts.

Commenter Tillie, who thinks urban schoolteachers have no choice but to do that much:

We have to teach the students in front of us, not the students we think they should be. I think the challenge is to find a way to help make students feel responsible for their own work if they are not already there. …

And I’m not talking about one or two students, but what happens when you have almost an entire classroom of students who are behind in their academics, who don’t think of themselves as capable of academic success, who act out in all sorts of ways to disrupt education, and who are resistant to learning. It’s easy to say that they shouldn’t be like that and that their parents should have done something different, but we both know there are classrooms just like I’ve described. What do you do then? Do you just proceed to “teach” without regard to whether they are learning? Do you write them off because they cannot do what you think they ought to do? What do you do with an unmotivated student?

Mildly Melancholy on the difficulty of measuring a teacher’s effectiveness:

i could babble for months and never convey the complete truth. because really, what is truth in a classroom of thirty people and managed by more behind the scenes? each of us in that room has a different reality and perspective. and days i thought were great maybe were bad, maybe days i thought were shite were actually okay. maybe i was a stellar teacher, maybe i was the worst teacher of all time.

…Teachers are human, we have needs, we have minds. You can’t judge me (or DC Teacher Chic, or anyone else) because you haven’t been in my shoes, you haven’t been in my mind (lucky you). You may have read my blog (thank you!), but remember, even that’s only snippets when I choose or remember to share.

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