One of the drawbacks of not having a television is that I am not able to keep up with the new Oprah series Blackboard Wars. The show follows the efforts of a charter school to turn things around in a low-income community in New Orleans.
I have yet to see any full episodes. If someone can direct me to a link where I can watch them online, it would be greatly appreciated.
However, I have seen all of first-year teacher and TFAer Baye Cobb that I need to see.
Reading the comments under her profile, it is obvious some people get it and some people do not. Some people see a wealthy white woman who probably could have went into a lucrative career but instead chose to work with inner-city youth. They compliment her up and down, calling her everything short of a “hero”.
Those people do not get it. This school probably used to have many teachers who dedicated their entire lives to these students. Day in and day out they came to work under the worst imaginable conditions. They did not have shiny new facilities, millions of dollars from private investors, crisp uniforms, small class sizes and all of the other amenities these first-year teachers have. Many of the old teachers were probably from the community. All they were told was that their school was failing and they were the cause of it. They got nothing but derision from the public.
Now here comes Baye Cobb riding in on her (very) white horse. She took a 5 week Teach for America training course and then was charged with teaching math to kids who need a great teacher. It is hard to imagine any of the teachers that were fired to make room for the likes of Baye Cobb could have been any more incompetent than her. Yet, she gets all the compliments and all the praise for sticking out her first year in such a rough environment. While the previous teachers got to toil in obscurity for many years, Baye Cobb gets the spotlight and all of the celebrity that comes with it.
It is unfortunate that these students, who seem by and large like good kids, are stuck with this mess of a woman. Sure, the first year of teaching is always difficult. We have all had our growing pains and embarrassing moments as teachers. Baye Cobb, however, represents everything wrong with putting ill-prepared teachers from white bread backgrounds in front of inner city children. She is a total caricature of herself.
Take, for example. the incident of a student named Coco.
Security guards are called to Ms. Cobb’s classroom. She tells them that there is no longer an issue because “the issue” just left the room. Yes, she calls a student “the issue”. Apparently, Coco was using some foul language to some other students, threatening them with getting her brother if they keep bothering her. When Coco was brought to the principal’s office, it turns out that she was upset because other students were calling her ugly. To his credit, the principal does try to make her feel better by telling her that she is not ugly. He is right to do that, not only because she is not ugly but because she needed to be treated like a human being and not “the issue”.
However, the principal then goes back to treating her like “the issue” by bringing her back to Ms. Cobb’s classroom to apologize. Ms. Cobb accepts Coco’s apology and then gives her a weak and cliched lecture about proper classroom decorum. At no point does Ms. Cobb treat Coco any differently than “the issue”.
This might seem like hyperbole to some but, as a teacher, Ms. Cobb’s handling of this situation disgusts me. She knew that Coco was telling other students to stop bothering her. She knew she was threatening those students. It was obvious that the girl was at her breaking point. Does Ms. Cobb try to find out why she was upset? Does she try to ascertain whether or not Coco has a valid reason for acting the way she is acting? Never. It never even crosses her mind. Coco is merely an issue and her behavior needs to be corrected.
As someone who was bullied in school, this is disturbing. I have had teachers treat me the same way when I was sticking up for myself. Nobody seemed to care why I was upset, only that my anger was a nuisance to them. There have been moments as a teacher when I wanted to jump down a kid’s throat for talking or some other bothersome behavior. Yet, I am always reminded of my childhood and take a step back to try to figure out why the student is doing what they are doing. Sometimes it is because the student is helping a classmate. Sometimes it is because a student is being picked on. Whatever it is, a teacher creates a much better environment when they treat each situation for what it is and not merely as an “issue”. You end up validating the student’s feelings and having fewer problems in the future. Most behavior problems end up containing themselves. The ones that do not can be rectified with a simple gesture: moving a student’s seat, giving a glare or quietly asking the student to desist or to see you after class. It is when a teacher does these things that they usually find out more about the situation and deal with it accordingly.
Ms. Cobb loses this round. I would not be surprised if Coco tuned her out for the rest of the year, or at least lost respect for her authority. There is now a big barrier between Ms. Cobb and Coco, one that will take the teacher a long time to overcome. Coco mentioned that she wanted to leave the school. Maybe that is because her teacher and principal treat her like a problem while the bullies get off scot free.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. Take this clip as another example:
Two boys are “fighting” in Ms. Cobb’s classroom, although it seemed more like play fighting. They are on the football team, so they are obviously strong young men. Ms. Cobb decides to step in the middle of the boys and ends up getting hit in the face. She then starts crying.
First, why do the boys even have an opening to play fight in the first place? The fact that things get to that point shows poor classroom management. Second, why is she, a petite woman, getting in between two strong boys? Did she think she was going to break them up? Third, why is she crying? Did she really get hurt or was her pride hurt? This seems to be a common theme with Ms. Cobb. Much like the case of Coco, Ms. Cobb seems to be much more concerned with her authority (or lack thereof) and her hurt pride.
What is really telling is how the students reacted to the situation. When she got hit, one of the boys said “she got thumped” in a very casual manner. They did not seem to be very concerned for her well-being, which is a sign that she has a lousy rapport with her students. Then, when she started crying, the kids were laughing. Again, they were not concerned about her in the least. Ms. Cobb does not have their respect or affection.
As someone who comes from a totally different world from her students, Ms. Cobb has not shown the slightest concern for bridging the gap. The students are forced to do all of the bridging. Coco was forced to apologize. Her students were forced to watch her cry. Everything seems to be one way in Ms. Cobb’s classroom. Is it any wonder the students do not seem to care about her?
My favorite clip, however, is the situation with the cheerleaders:
Ms. Cobb is apparently the cheerleading coach. The students are waiting for a school bus to go to a game or practice or whatever. However, the buses left without the squad because another teacher said that they were for the football team. They call Ms. Cobb on the phone and she comes down to the school. When she gets there she makes them rush and says the last person in the classroom has to do push-ups for not having a “sense of urgency”. Then, one of the students says under her breath “we need a new coach”. Ms. Cobb then forces the student to repeat her words and informs the student that it was not her fault that the bus left without them. The students are subjected to yet another round of tears from Ms. Cobb, who tells them that they do not appreciate the effort she has put into them. The scene ends with her giving postcards to the students so they can anonymously write whether or not they want her as their coach.
Why are the students there alone? Why are they going somewhere obviously off-campus without their coach? This does not really seem to be Ms. Cobb’s fault, since it seemed perfectly normal to the students. Perhaps this is just the way they do things at that particular school. When she shows up, it is understandable that she makes them rush, considering they are late in getting somewhere. If that was the case, why make them do push-ups? It totally contradicts the supposed “sense of urgency” of the situation. Again, is this due to Ms. Cobb’s hurt ego? The student did not jump to her command fast enough and needs to be punished.
One student then made an admittedly rude and disrespectful comment. This is when Ms. Cobb totally goes off the rails. She starts crying and reprimanding everyone for the snide remarks of one student. Again, where is the urgency? If she was hurt by the comment she should have ignored it totally and proved to them over time that she is a good coach, thereby winning the student over in the long run. Barring that, she could have addressed things with that student one-on-one, preferably on the way to wherever they needed to be. Once again her ego, her emotions and her baggage become the problem of the students. The world must stop when Ms. Cobb feels pain.
Once again, the students seem unconcerned for her feelings. Rather than sitting there stroking her ego, the students would much rather get to where they need to be. On top of this, they seem to be genuinely tired of her antics. Who can blame them? It is completely inappropriate for an adult to force children to deal with her own issues. Their reactions show a lack of respect for Ms. Cobb. They lack respect for her because she lacks respect for them. Her entire demeanor is self-centered. Rather than getting them to the field they are stuck, stuck, dealing with her nonsense. I bet that the kids have heard more about her feelings than she has heard about theirs. That is why her students do not respect her.
The students of this school deserve better. I wonder how many good, solid, upstanding veteran teachers were fired to make room for the likes of Ms. Cobb. Not only is she inexperienced. Not only is she culturally disconnected from her students. She shows no desire to find out about her students, their world and what makes them tick. She expects them to show her that courtesy, however. It is completely shameful behavior for a teacher.
Her upbringing comes through in everything she does. This is a woman who has had everything handed to her. Her entire life has been structured around her: her feelings, her desires, her dreams. Too bad that she has gotten into a profession that demands complete selflessness. Too bad her students are stuck with a completely self-absorbed diva for a teacher.
If this school “turns around”, and if these students “succeed”, it will be in spite of Baye Cobb and not because of her.