human capital

Mildly Melancholy responds to the great debate about her firing

The charter school teacher who goes by Mildly Melancholy first got our attention here when she was unceremoniously fired, in the middle of the school year, after struggling for months with what sounds like precious little support from administrators and fellow staff. Since then, she’s inspired a great debate in the comments section here about what it means to be a teacher, how to measure teacher quality, and whether urban teachers are asked to do too much.

And now, she’s emerged from a period of quiet on the subject of herself to respond to this raging debate. The long response she’s posted is worth a read, especially her disclosure that she’s the third teacher in the grade she taught to be dismissed from this particular school. (Maybe she’s not the one to blame here.)

Here are some other highlights from the robust conversation Mildly Melancholy started.

Commenter Schooldays, who thinks urban schoolteachers are asked to do too much:

We all know the multiplicity of problems many students are burdened with and then find their way into our classrooms. But it does not necessarily follow that teachers should be designated the ones that have to deal with these problems. Teachers are not trained child psychologists nor social workers nor should they be. They should not have to work through these problems with students in order to get to the point where learning can begin. While it may be convenient (and cheap) for a society to say: “Since all of these children are in one place and at one time (schools), let them handle it (whatever the problem(s) happens to be).”, it is inappropriate to saddle a learning environment (learning community) with issues better handled by trained experts.

Commenter Tillie, who thinks urban schoolteachers have no choice but to do that much:

We have to teach the students in front of us, not the students we think they should be. I think the challenge is to find a way to help make students feel responsible for their own work if they are not already there. …

And I’m not talking about one or two students, but what happens when you have almost an entire classroom of students who are behind in their academics, who don’t think of themselves as capable of academic success, who act out in all sorts of ways to disrupt education, and who are resistant to learning. It’s easy to say that they shouldn’t be like that and that their parents should have done something different, but we both know there are classrooms just like I’ve described. What do you do then? Do you just proceed to “teach” without regard to whether they are learning? Do you write them off because they cannot do what you think they ought to do? What do you do with an unmotivated student?

Mildly Melancholy on the difficulty of measuring a teacher’s effectiveness:

i could babble for months and never convey the complete truth. because really, what is truth in a classroom of thirty people and managed by more behind the scenes? each of us in that room has a different reality and perspective. and days i thought were great maybe were bad, maybe days i thought were shite were actually okay. maybe i was a stellar teacher, maybe i was the worst teacher of all time.

…Teachers are human, we have needs, we have minds. You can’t judge me (or DC Teacher Chic, or anyone else) because you haven’t been in my shoes, you haven’t been in my mind (lucky you). You may have read my blog (thank you!), but remember, even that’s only snippets when I choose or remember to share.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede