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You’re a Disgrace

Ms. Stanley and Ms. Diaz are co-teaching one period together, and the classroom they are sharing has been Ms. Diaz’s for 15 years. Unfortunately, the two teachers have very different teaching strategies. Ms. Diaz, believing that a certain percentage of students are destined to fail, is strict and unyielding. Ms. Stanley has spent two years working with "at risk" students and believes that all students can succeed with support. Ms. Stanley has tried to talk to Ms. Diaz about their differences, to no avail.


Every day Ms. Stanley, a middle school teacher for students with learning disabilities dreaded first period. It was the class she shared with her co-teacher, Ms. Diaz, an 8th grade math teacher. This was the first co-teaching experience for them both. In facilitating a district-wide adoption of inclusionary practices, special and general education teachers went through a district-wide training program prior to starting that year. The participants had been randomly selected and paired to pilot the program. The classroom they shared for first period was Ms. Diaz’s classroom, the one she had been in for 15 years. Ms. Stanley was clearly the outsider. The class consisted of 20 general education students, 3 students with learning disabilities, and 6 students who were classified as "at risk for academic failure."

In the classroom, the two teachers were polar opposites. Ms. Diaz, a teacher for 25 years, was strict and unyielding. She believed that in every classroom there were a certain percentage of students who were bound to fail. "You know," Ms. Diaz said to Ms. Stanley during the first week of class, "I figure you’re always going to have about 20% of these kids who will fail. When you go into the school year understanding that, it doesn’t bother you as much."

Ms. Stanley, a special educator with 15 years experience, did not share the same opinion. She had spent the past two years working in a nearby school district with students "at risk" for academic failure or with learning disabilities. It was her belief that all students could succeed with the proper support. Finding a way to engage those students was her goal. 

She tried to discuss this with Ms. Diaz. "There must be some way to motivate that 20% so that this year they won’t fail. Don’t you see that as our challenge here, especially with two of us in the classroom?"

Ms. Diaz responded, "It’s the students responsibility to learn. We can’t coddle them. Anyway, grades should be their motivation!"

"Well, for some students grades aren’t motivation enough. Perhaps, in this class, we could try to brainstorm some type of modifications and a reward system so we can help even unmotivated students be successful."

Ms. Diaz disagreed completely. "Reward! That’s bribery! Anyway, I work here every day and I don’t get a reward!"

"Ms. Diaz," Ms. Stanley said feeling somewhat impatient, "You receive a paycheck. They don’t."

No matter what Ms. Stanley said, she couldn’t seem to change Ms. Diaz’s views or more importantly, practice. Several months into the school year, Ms. Stanley still found herself in a very traditional classroom. No reward systems were in place, and the only instructional modifications present were those used by Ms. Stanley during the time she was teaching the group. Ms. Stanley hesitated to push the issue for fear of offending Ms. Diaz.

Within the walls of Room 306, Ms. Stanley felt stifled by her co-teacher’s strong personality. She longed for the peaceful and pleasant student-centered environment that she used to cultivate in her own classrooms. Tonya, a student in Ms. Stanley’s homeroom and also in the Diaz/Stanley first period, put her finger on it one morning: "Ms. Stanley, how come you’re always so much fun in homeroom, and then when we get to first period you’re in such a bad mood?"

The answer was simple, but couldn’t be stated out loud: Ms. Diaz's negative attitude about students and the stagnant nature of the classroom was becoming unbearable. Instruction itself seemed confusing and Ms. Stanley wasn’t sure where she fit in. Every time the two would agree to a teaching schedule for the week, Ms. Diaz would throw a curve. Once, Ms. Stanley was in the middle of explaining the order of operations in math problems when Ms. Diaz appeared from the storage closet with a stack of worksheets. "I don’t know what you were planning to do today, Ms. Stanley, but I just found these worksheets and thought you might like to use them."

"Well, Ms. Diaz, we were just talking about order of operations. These worksheets look as though they are practice problems for multiplying fractions…"

" Yes," agreed Ms. Diaz, "they are, but I just thought because we have them, the kids could do these instead."

Ms. Stanley, unsure of how to proceed without offending her partner, began to explain: "Yes, but we haven’t covered that yet…," but it was too late. Ms. Diaz had already begun passing out the worksheets, telling the students to turn them in on Thursday." Everyone except Ms. Diaz was confused, and no one, including Ms. Stanley, knew what to do.

Finally, Ms. Stanley stated lamely, "Okay, if you know how to multiply fractions, go ahead and get started. Otherwise, we will circle up and work on this together."

Ms. Diaz replied over her shoulder as she passed out the last of the worksheets, "I don’t think you should help them, Ms. Stanley. They are in the 8th grade. They should know how to multiply fractions."

Ms. Stanley talked to Ms. Diaz after class about how confusing it was for her to have her lessons interrupted. Ms. Diaz agreed to let Ms. Stanley teach on Tuesday and Thursday the following week but ended up interrupting and changing the focus of the lessons again.

Even more troubling, Ms. Stanley felt, were Ms. Diaz’s negative statements about students. She regularly made comments such as, "I don’t know, Ms. Stanley. I don’t think Joe is smart enough to read out of this book. Don’t you think we should find something easier?" She frequently spoke loudly enough for the entire class to hear.

Ms. Stanley kept her feelings to herself because she wasn’t sure what to do. One day, however, she snapped when Ms. Diaz went too far by scolding Jose.

"Jose! What are you doing, sleeping? You think that’s what this school is for? You know what you do? You give us a bad name.You sleep in class, you know what everybody thinks? ‘Lazy Hispanics. That’s what they think. You are a disgrace, I tell you."

After class, Ms. Stanley decided to address the issue. "You know, Ms. Dias I don’t feel comfortable with you talking to our students that way. I don’t believe Jose deserved that kind of humiliation simply for sleeping. There must be another way we can address that type of problem."

"Look, Ms. Stanley," Ms. Diaz said casually. "You don’t have to worry about how I talk to Jose. I know how to talk to boys like him. You just don’t understand our culture."

This meeting, similar to every shared class period, left Ms. Stanley feeling incredibly frustrated. She didn’t agree with Ms. Diaz, but at the same time she didn’t think there was anything she could say to make headway. She dreaded first period and thought to herself, "I can’t suffer like this for the rest of the year." She was also concerned for the students. Much of her time in the classroom was spent acting as a liaison between the students and Ms. Diaz. She often found herself uttering excuses such as "You know sometimes Ms. Diaz speaks very strongly, but she cares about every student in this classroom." To complicate matters, the students had begun to direct all their questions towards her, particularly when they needed help with work. Despite her best efforts, it seemed that a "good teacher / bad teacher" dichotomy was developing and that was something she definitely wanted to avoid.

On top of it all, Ms. Stanley questioned the amount and type of instruction that was taking place. Something had to change. But what? After teaching for over 20 years, Ms. Diaz seemed resolved not to change. Plus, this was the first year either of them had participated in a co-teaching model and it clearly wasn’t voluntary on the part of Ms. Diaz. Ms. Stanley said to herself again, "I just can’t go on like this for the rest of the year."


Discussion/Study Questions

  1. List what you learned/know about each of the characters in the case.
  2. What do you think is motivating the thoughts/actions of each of the characters?
  3. What are the issues/problems in the case?


Additional Questions

  1. What are alternative ways to problem-solve and take action to improve this situation?
  2. What might be the outcome/ramifications of each of those alternatives?
  3. How does a teacher decide when to take action and when to "grin and bear it" in a situation like this?
  4. Do you think either of the teachers demonstrated cultural bias? If so, in what ways might that have affected the students in the class?
  5. In what ways do you think that the teachers' attitudes might have affected student learning and achievement?



CEC Competencies/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case


One’s own cultural biases and differences that affect one’s teaching.

Importance of the teacher serving as a model for students.

Teacher attitudes and behaviors that positively or negatively influence student behavior.

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