Young teacher describes how antigypsyism is alive and well in Czech primary education
In September 2016 I began teaching English in a primary school on a housing estate, and I have to say that the atmosphere and the relaxed discipline were a very unpleasant surprise for me. The management did not have an unambiguous strategy for leading the school - indeed, the principal was hardly ever there, but was constantly traveling to this or that project event.
The teachers were left to deal with problematic classes on their own - "You'll resolve it for yourselves during class, you're educators, after all," they told us. At the time I did not yet have much experience as a teacher, and the sudden confrontation with the reality at that school was rather a great shock to me.
The children there threw their snacks at each other, used vulgarities, shouted, and brawled with each other. Gradually I understood that the problem, to a great extent, consisted of the dilettantism of the school leadership and the approach taken by many teachers, who based their actions on the theory that the more they shouted at the pupils and humiliated them, the more of their much-desired authority as teachers they would somehow earn.
The vast majority of them taught with the aid of commenting on the material in front of the blackboard, doing their best to dictate what the pupils would write down in their notebooks, and woe to the pupil who was not writing - that discovery would initiate cries of such intensity that it would startle me in the faculty lounge if a teacher left the door to her classroom open and then let out one of those piercing sounds. My impression is that the approach of the principal motivated the teachers to behave this way - whenever she randomly happened to be at the school, she would walk through the building, and if she heard noise somewhere during instruction, then she would enter the classroom and use a thunderous roar to frighten and silence the shocked pupils.
That happened to me once during a class where I was making use of group work and logically, the room was not as quiet as the grave during that process. In any event, that was the year the financial measures associated with so-called "inclusion" began to be introduced, and there was a great deal of disagreement about them among the teachers and the administration, a lot of confusion, and endless training as part of the many projects for which the school had applied.
That particular school was doing its best to profile itself as inclusive, progressive and social, with many certificates to show the outside world, a progressive curriculum, and a website full of the widest possible variety of inclusive projects. Nevertheless, beneath that shiny surface the reality was absolute chaos and hypocrisy, personified in one particular case.
That was the case of the so-called "elite classes". The school had decided that pupils, after graduating from lower primary school, would be "proactively categorized", and three different classes were created for them, one an "elite" class and two classes for the "vermin" - the "elites" got computers they were meant to use during instruction, and they had a different schedule.
One of the "vermin classes" was almost purely Romani, while the "elite" class was purely white, mostly pupils from the better-situated families who could afford to buy the computer necessary to the daily instruction. The relations among these classes were extremely tense, with the pupils from the "vermin classes" considering the "elites" to be arrogant and stuck up, while the "elite" pupils perceived everybody else as lowlife who couldn't learn and would never achieve anything.
"Isn't that a bit against all these ideals of inclusion?" I asked in confusion. "Oh please, those gypsies need a special approach, you know what their brains are like," my colleagues answered, with a wink.
I felt like I was in a madhouse when, as the entrusted teacher, I completed various administration tasks related to inclusion, attended a conference about inclusion - and all the while we had one absolutely segregated class at the school. Racism among the teachers was absolutely common, and their angry frustration that "those gypsies get it all and we whites get nothing" was a quite customary subject of conversation at lunch and in the faculty lounge.
I personally witnessed crazy situations, such as a teacher shouting at a little Romani girl that she was "lazy and stupid" and that if she wanted to achieve anything in life she had to stop being a "rotten gypsy girl" like her "lazy parents". There were many such attacks made on the Romani pupils by the teachers.
It seemed to me that some of the Romani pupils internalized these condemnations and behaved according to their teachers' low expectations. They shouted, they argued, they were undisciplined, they used vulgarisms, etc.
In the Romani class the atmosphere was odd - the pupils were related to one another in different ways, and they openly told each other they would never achieve anything because they were "stupid", that they would "live on welfare" (as the teachers had told them they would?), and it was common for them to get out of their seats and run about the classroom. "Well, you know, gypsies - they just have that travelling in their blood," said the special needs educator, shrugging her shoulders, when I went to her for advice about how to conduct instruction in the Romani classroom.
Disciplinary problems were constantly being addressed, and the screeching in the corridors of the schools was soon augmented by the loud shouts of the Romani parents who had "come to settle something with the teachers". I have to say that the atmosphere depressed me immeasurably.
I attempted to propose to the management that they should mix the classes, that it should not be the case that white pupils have computers and are the elite while the "blacks" are closed off as if they were in a segregated special education class, but I did not succeed. "Young man, you don't comprehend any of this," the principal said.
"These gypsies are glad they're in that classroom. Their own parents are satisfied with this," she asserted.
"To each their own," she told me - and sent me to another training about the ideals of inclusion. To this day I still believe that if the classes had been mixed, and if some order had begun to predominate at the school, then all the rest would have been solvable, because when I spoke individually with specific pupils from the segregated class, they seemed intelligent and rational to me.
Inside that segregated classroom, however, a kind of "menagerie" effect took over, one that confirmed all of the prejudices held by the teachers about the "uncontrollable" Roma. While inclusion is certainly a good idea, the way it is concretely being implemented by the ministry - mainly by making absurd demands of exhausted teachers and the administration it involves - is a catastrophe.
Through its shocking inability to realize this good idea in practice, the state is just adding fuel to the fire of racist stereotypes in the schools. I left that particular school after just one year.
Reprinted with the agreement of the administrator from the Facebook page "Leave Us the Hell Alone So We Can Do A Good Job Teaching" (Nechte nás sakra učit dobře), where teachers publish their experiences from the Czech schools.
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