“Blah, blah, blah, fuck this school!” she screamed.
I waited in the hallway of a “Turnaround” public high school. Massachusetts defines a “Turnaround” school as one that has “performed poorly on the Comprehensive Assessment System in both the Math and English Language Arts sections over a four-year span and hasn't shown signs of "substantial improvement.’"
I had a scheduled meeting with the school’s headmaster. I was greeted by a hall monitor who walked me through a metal detector. Then he led me to the headmaster’s office.
The office door was closed. A black man wearing a school t-shirt opened the door and said, “She’s concluding a meeting with a parent. She’ll be with you shortly.” He closed the door.
I looked at the bulletin boards. One bulletin board showed photos of the girl’s championship basketball team. They looked aggressive.
There was also a list of those students with perfect attendance. And nearby, a quote by Dr. Ralph Tyler: “Teaching is not just a job. It is a human service, and it must be thought of as a mission.”
Suddenly, an angry voice. The profanity I heard clearly. “Fuck, blah, blah, and blah, blah shit!” Then I heard banging. I assumed the parent was making her point. And I wondered if the principal would want to reschedule our meeting.
The headmaster’s office door opened. A student stormed out of the office yelling, “This fucking school has the worst MCAS scores in the city. How the fuck you gonna fail me!” Her mother walked behind her, urging her to be quiet.
The headmaster stood in the doorway. She smiled and introduced herself.
“Do you want to reschedule?” I asked.
“No, come on in.” I followed her into the office.
She said, “That was Asia. Asia is upset because she received all F’s on her report card.” We sat. “Could you hear her in the hallway?”
“Yes,” I said, “Though I could only make out the curses.”
“She’s very angry.”
We turned to the purpose of our meeting. “Tell me about your work,” she said.
When our meeting concluded, she offered a tour of the school. It was lunchtime. “Do you want to go down to the cafeteria?” she asked.
“Are you sure you can handle it,” insinuating that the cafeteria could be rowdy. “Yes,” I assured her.
When we got to the cafeteria, students were seemingly everywhere. Half of them stood behind a bar-like counter; the other half sat at the lunch tables.
She explained. The students at the cafeteria tables knew how to sit down and have a meal. Most of them are the students that are doing well academically. Then she pointed to those standing, yelling and goofing around, most of them are failing.
She continued, explaining how people have a negative perception of our school.
I asked, “Well, how can you change the public’s perception about the school?”
“Test scores,” she said.
As I looked over the crowd of students I thought that there is much more than test scores that need to change. Before we can teach, we have to get to the root of why so many of them are like Asia – angry.