Wishful Thinking

Posting one of my replies to a comment thread on Diane Ravitch’s blog for her post: “Are TFA Teachers “Highly Qualified”?  I expect my comment to elicit meaningful discourse, if not some passionate statements.  While my thoughts on this matter might make some uncomfortable, I believe it is critical that we realistically assess what we are asked to do as teachers, and the likelihood we can succeed, even with professional development / training.  Parents, guardians, and students expect no less than honest opinions on what they should receive from public education.


Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher     July 20, 2012 at 3:33 am

Hi JJ.  This is a reply to your July 20, 2012 at 12:41 am comment where you stated: “…any good teacher or administrator knows tht placing these [sped] kids in inclusion or mainstream setting is [sic] mea ingress unless you do provide them meaningful instruction. Accommodate. Differentiate, engage them. It’s not as easy as just placing them into the [sic] c,ass, but many still don’t realize that.”

I believe we are fooling ourselves to think that most / many teachers can effectively differentiate for the diversity of needs in secondary classrooms today. “Meaningful instruction” is unachievable unless a student is ready and willing to engage at some level, taking into account any limitations of his/her disability. If an aide, or two, is available to assist and support the teacher, and adequate space and resources are available, the likelihood for meaningful instruction increases considerably.

Realistically, teachers with 150 students a day are faced with a near impossible mission to intuit changing student-specific interests that map appropriately to the myriad of standards per subject. I get the intent. It is honorable, and a laudable goal. I wish it happened daily in classrooms throughout America. But it does not since it is a “bridge too far” expectation.

In my opinion, the education field causes more harm than good when it gives the impression that student-specific differentiation is achievable by any except the most talented of experienced teachers, and even in those cases I believe they need to be in a school culture that nurtures students and supports teachers in manners that enable their mutual success. In other words, it is in rare instances that the many factors that impact student learning align sufficiently for an individual teacher with 30-40 students per period, with five different periods per day, to accommodate ELD, RSP, GATE, and/or other special needs such as 504 plans in a truly effective manner.

Unless, and until, a realistic deployment of resources commensurate with the task besetting a teacher are readily available, we are fooling ourselves that meaningful instruction is possible, much less within reach. I wish it were otherwise. Regardless, I will continue to do everything in my power to make it so. It’s just that with a quarter of a century experience facing difficult challenges, I have a pretty good sense for what is realistic, and what is wishful thinking.

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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4 Responses to Wishful Thinking

  1. Dave ( also a career changer Math teacher ),a few years ahead of you. says:

    I agree whole heartedly but at 3 am you should be doing something else.


  2. Florida resident says:

    Esteemed “Second-career Math Teacher” !
    Somehow I see you talking about school “system”, without discussing who are the students to be taught by that “system”.
    You should express your opinion about the book “Bad Students, not Bad Schools” by Robert Weissberg.
    By the way, that author has been recently purged from “The National Review”, soon after Derbyshire has been expelled from there. I (humbly) share the opinions of Weissberg and Derbyshire.
    Here is the reference to the Weissberg’s book:


    Respectfully yours, F.r.


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