PEORIA, IL -- Here is the comment from Sharon Crews at the July 16 meeting of the Peoria Public School Board, District 150:
When I graduated from college, a friend asked me to visit her classroom at Roosevelt—I did and immediately went to the board rooms to apply for a job there and was hired. Buck Smith supported teachers wholeheartedly and loved the students. His expectation of teachers was that they “be fair, firm, and friendly. Relationships that the students and I built there were easily brought back to life by Facebook fifty years later. Many of my Roosevelt students became the parents of children I taught later at Manual.
Students play a huge role in building relationships because they want teachers to like them. My best example would be Gail Neal Rosado, who came to me at the end of her seventh grade year to tell me that she would be in my eighth grade class and that she would be my favorite student. That relationship has lasted a lifetime
Teachers do not need programs to help them build relationships with students. First, they need what I received at Roosevelt—a principal who cares about teachers and supports them. Secondly, they need to have their ideas and complaints made known to and considered by the superintendent, Wisconsin Avenue administrators, and the board. Thirdly, they need support that allows teachers to interact with students because discipline problems are quickly removed from the classroom and dealt with in ways that produce positive results.
Because District 150 gave me all those advantages during my seven years at Roosevelt and for about twenty-five at Manual, I was able to teach and to build strong relationships with my students. If you have access to my records, you would find that in my first 30 years I wrote almost no referrals.
Some teachers opt to have a quiet classroom. I chose to teach by having discussions that required students to interact with me and with each other. Using this method, I could ask questions that let me know immediately if students had comprehended the information that I had presented. A teacher and students together in a room five days a week for a semester or a year will build teacher-student relationships, and students definitely will build relationships with each other. A good teacher will encourage and guide these relationships.
However, that interaction became harder and harder, starting in the late 1990’s and came to a screeching halt by my last two years. From the 1990s on, I had to spend increasingly more and more of every hour handling discipline problems. This was not the fault of students, teachers, or parents—it was due to changes in administrative policies and administrators that allowed students to disrupt classes with almost no consequences.
Policy demanded that no student could leave the classroom without a referral—that took time from teaching. Fights in hallways and the cafeteria became spectator sports with 50 to 60 students rushing to watch fights during which I even observed the student on the ground being kicked in the head. In addition to severe discipline problems, changes in policy encouraged inflated grades, and summer school ended.
By the 2000’s Jeff Dutro and I took an account of Manual’s problems to the Peoria Journal and Elaine Hopkins was assigned to making Manual’s plight public. I didn’t expect the front page banner headline that started “Manual teachers.” Not knowing how my students would react, I read and discussed the story with all my classes. All were supportive and one class stood up and cheered.
After I retired, the Johns Hopkins era destroyed teacher-student relations when two thirds of the faculty was traded for new teachers and teachers transferred from other buildings—most, if not all, with no high school experience. The strong relationships teachers had built with each other ended, and few veteran teachers were left to mentor the new teachers.
Manual never recovered because teachers don’t stay long enough to build relationships. Change is needed in the whole district, and I believe you all are capable of bringing about the needed change if you will allow teachers to be a strong part of the process. Also, all changes must be evaluated regularly to determine if they are bringing about positive results. - 30 -