Watch 'Em Blow

Not just "bad" teachers: I experienced nothing short of a panic attack as I read Jim Schutze's "Schoolhouse Dynamite" (October 16). You see, I teach for DISD in a school that is predicted to be low-performing after the 2003 TAKS scores are released this spring. I predict that my school is not going to reach Mike Moses' impossible goal. I'll admit that the passing rate in my own classes averages around 60 percent. Yet I am not one of those "bad teachers" who sleeps, scares the kids or talks on the cell phone, unless it's to call parents. Most teachers I know try to teach their students to the best of their ability every day. We even "keep a grade book" in spite of the recent DISD budget cuts that eliminated 45 minutes per day of our planning/grading/conferencing time while adding an extra class to our teaching schedule.

Let's face it. Sometimes learning occurs in the classroom, but all too often it doesn't. Russell Fish is a simpleton if he thinks DISD teachers are solely to blame.

Where does Mr. Schutze get his information? According to www.tea.state.tx.us, 68 percent of DISD students are economically disadvantaged, and only 8 percent are Anglo. All of the schools with a majority of Anglo students in DISD that I know of received a "recognized" or better rating by TEA. My daughter attends one. At the school where I work, minorities are the majority. Most do come from broken homes, are poor, and some are victims of parental abuse or neglect.

These kids come to me in August unable to spell the word "and," incapable of writing a complete sentence, much less a solid paragraph. In a period of about six months, I am supposed to teach these same children how to write an essay that will receive a passing score on the seventh-grade TAKS writing test in February. I consider myself lucky to have students who read on the fourth-grade level and speak fluent English. Usually, I am not that blessed.

You may wonder how students with such poor skills reach the seventh grade. So do I--every day. Every year, students disclose secrets of former teachers who, inside the privacy of their classrooms, gave students answers on TAAS and TAKS. The cheating naturally resulted in higher student test scores and an effective disguise for the ineffective teacher. I have witnessed the mysterious social promotion of students who failed their classes, failed TAAS and didn't attend a single day of summer school. What's a lowly teacher to do about the political agendas of administrators who refuse to remove serious discipline problems from the classroom? Don't these indicators, which are beyond the teacher's control, impede a teacher's ability to teach? If teachers are judged on the basis of their students' test scores, what will become of honest, passionate, competent teachers who hang in there, desperately hoping for a change?

If Mr. Fish has his way, nothing will ever change.

Name withheld

Light the fuse: "Schoolhouse Dynamite" by Jim Schutze really hits the nail on the head. I taught in public schools for 22 years, so I know something about public schools. I really hope Russell Fish wins his lawsuit forcing the release of the educational data he seeks. If only Bill Parcells or Jimmy Johnson or someone like them were in charge of DISD, then maybe there would be a significant improvement. Bad teachers need to be identified and gotten rid of. By withholding valuable information from the public that pays the taxes for our schools, a serious offense against the children who have the bad teachers has been committed. Fact: Children will learn and accelerate and advance rapidly with a strong teacher. A bad teacher can ruin a child for the rest of his life. This information needs to be out and dealt with ASAP. Best of luck to Russell Fish and his lawsuit, and a great job by Jim Schutze in writing the article. Hopefully, the dynamite has been lit.

Skip Bunn

A few bad apples: Mr. Schutze, I read your article about bad teachers. There are bad apples in any kind of barrel, even journalism (not you, of course). I really don't think your article did justice to so many of us that give our all. Please remember that teachers have no options as to what the students should learn. That is a function of the administration on Ross Avenue. A long time ago, teachers taught basic skills. I think if you check on today's curriculum, you will find that basic skills are no longer the goal of the math curriculum today.

Name withheld

Soul of the City

Homegirl: Most of all I enjoyed the cover shot of Erykah ("The Weird Girl," by Robert Wilonsky, October 16): It captures the purity of her karma, the "little girl" of her spirit! It is always interesting how the press ignores stars except when the hype is racheted up for the latest release or tour...but your article managed to capture the compassionate and community-conscious girl.

Joe McFatter

Pink People

Letting the dust collect: I am a 33-year-old Mary Kay consultant ("Think Pink," by Sarah Hepola, October 9) who started when I was 31. I am by far not the youngest, and I am glad you are correcting the misconceptions of Mary Kay. It's a great product line and a great company to work with. I just wanted to clear up one wrong item I noted in your article: The lights at Seminar are always handed out to us--we don't have to purchase them. They are one of many gifts that are given to Seminar attendees.

I appreciate, too, that you were able to give both sides about the complaints from past consultants. Many of the women failed themselves. The company gives us all the tools to create a wonderful business, but we have to actually do the work. The dusty product sitting on the woman's shelves is actually money she is allowing to get dusty.

Kathleen Hemauer
Fairfax, Virginia