One of the nation’s highest priorities should be to learn from the best practices of these high-performing schools and to insist that all schools serving low-income children aspire to the No Excuses standard of excellence.
– Adam Meyerson
The students are lined up outside the school doors. In matching navy blue sweat suits, sleepiness hangs over them like a morning haze. I attribute their silence to the same tiredness I remember my own students wearing as they entered my eighth grade classroom.
The door to the school opens and the flood of students I remember witnessing as a teacher and experiencing as a student doesn’t happen. The students remain in a single-file line. The groggy morning murmurs have ceased. The line has moved from quiet to silent. Just over the threshold, the principal meets each student and asks them to lift their pant legs so she can see their socks. The few students wearing blue jeans are asked to lift their shirts so the principal can see their belts.
The students file down the hall – still silent – and sit in “community circle” and wait to be dismissed to their classrooms. The teacher overseeing community circle this morning is the only voice to be heard in the room, “I’m sorry eighth grade. Seventh grade is so quiet, I’m going to have to dismiss them first.”
Without a word, the seventh graders gather their backpacks and lunch boxes and file past me back down the hallway. One of my host teachers says, “Don’t be surprised when they don’t speak to your or acknowledge your presence. They’re on silent.” If a student were to turn to look at me or say “hello,” she explains, the student would receive a demerit. I later learn the principal’s spot checking of socks and belts also held the potential of demerits. Anything other than plain white socks or jeans without a belt are grounds for a demerit. “They are symbols of status,” the host teacher explains.
I bite my tongue at this. I am a guest, and it is not my place to point out the school’s treatment of its students is a constant reminder of status.