Every day I seem to come across another story of a school district, a school or a teacher on the brink of calamity. Whether it be the sweeping ‘reforms’ in New Jersey, the Renaissance School Initiative in my own Philadelphia or budget cuts in Chicago , a disgruntled teacher in Florida or a Newsweek article blasting teachers, it seems everyone in education (or those with no hand in it) have something to say or do about education.

It’s scary as hell.

The day before Spring Break my district announced that all 14 of its schools slated for complete overhauls were being restructured in some way. Mine will become a charter school next year, which means that all of the staff will have to apply for a new job.

But it’s not about us.

I sincerely hope that the new management coming in can do more for our students than we every could. I sincerely hope that they keep our students and don’t try to weed them out as many charters do.  I hope that our students are given the chance to explore their own interests and are challenged beyond The Test. I hope their new teachers will listen to them, teach them how to listen and build a community in the classroom. I hope they will be given the opportunity to use 21st Century tools in authentic and meaningful ways.

I won’t be there to see it.  Neither will many of my colleagues.

As a stipulation of the Renaissance School Initiative, all Renaissance Schools will run up to 22 days in July (with students) an extra hour a day as well as up to two Saturdays a month. If I wanted to work at  KIPP school, I would already be there.

They also are not in market, it seems, for a Computer teacher.

What’s sad is that many teachers will be either leaving the district, retiring early or being forced to choose schools off a list just to stay employed.  Many don’t want to leave the union and many have worked at the school for 20+ years and find it silly to try to work somewhere else for 2-3 years until retirement.

The other sad thing? Many of these teachers have been forced over the past few years to teach formulaic lessons or scripted programs. When they do apply to work elsewhere,  this will not help them get a job. It has also, for many, made them lose sight of why they got into teaching in the first place.

These kinds of overhauls are happening all over the country, though perhaps with different names or different models (i.e. the Rhode Island teacher layoffs).  It seems to be the fad these days to point the finger at the teachers (and teachers unions) for all of the problems in education. Easy enough. It’s far simpler to replace a teaching staff than fix a broken system (one that often lets incompetent teachers stay in the classroom).

Who would honestly WANT to be a teacher these days?

I do.

I know, however, what I am willing to accept, what I refuse to accept, what kind of school I want to work in, and what I am not willing to ‘take’ when it comes to being treated as a professional. I know this because I know what conditions I need to best serve my students.

When it comes down to it, it’s not about us.

It’s about the kids.

Which is why I get up every morning.

Sorry, Superintendent Ackerman.

Sorry, Jerry Jordan.

You are Bantha fodder in my book.

  34 Responses to “The Times Are A-Changing”

  1. I hear you … it's frustrating, but I am glad that even in the face of all that turmoil, your message of who wants to be a teacher (you, me, others) rings out loud and clear.
    Kevin

  2. As always, thanks for modeling what we need from teachers. We allegedly want to inspire students to be creative, think critically, and work collaboratively. When will we start to allow the the people that have the biggest impact on our students to do the same? Stifling our best and our brightest teachers is not the answer.

    Hope you find a place that appreciates what you offer and the same goes for all of the other teachers in Philly facing the same dilemma. Don't give up on education. The kids need you!

  3. It's a such a waste for small minded, shallow thinking "educators" who haven't been in a classroom for a long time, reflexively grab at "solutions" that sound right while ignoring successful innovations.

    Below is a link to a recent Morning Joe broadcast title "Great Expectations." I thought it interesting that KIPP schools were not mentioned.

    http://ilnk.me/2083

  4. Thanks for your post. I'm a first year teacher between two schools in the same system and one is applying for the grant. I fear all my teacher friends on twitter aren't going through this because they're "good teachers" but they're really just in "good systems". I know the kids are the ones who need help but I need a job! I hope this helps solve something in the future.

  5. I'm not sure if you meant that as a jab or not.

    Harlem Children's Zone schools are amazing, and have proved to be a successful innovation. However, the waiting list for these schools is out of control. KIPP has been successful, but it is not sustainable unless there is a larger change in 'the system.' Families who don't buy into these models or keep up their 'end of the bargain' are politely asked to leave the school. These families end up back in the neighborhood public school. I know this first hand because I share a building with a KIPP school (who took only our best and brightest through an interview process) and we are now receiving many new students who have been 'kicked out' of charter schools.

    Thanks for the link. I'm going to go finish watching it now.

  6. have you read diy u by anya kamenetz? i'm reading it now.

  7. I have a problem with KIPP not only because they are unsustainable. For me they take as given the metrics for success. They are demonstrably successful in achieving their goal. But is "getting into college" the right goal. In my opinion, it's precisely wrong and a feature of conventional wisdom on the part of intellect workers.

    From what I see of Duncan's approach, it is "college or career ready." It may seem a big difference, but I think the careful choice of words reveal a new focus.

  8. I think what's going on is an all out attack on unionized urban schools. If the teacher unions are marginalized or eliminated, it will be much easier for the right to win back and keep political control of the country

  9. "It may seem a big difference" should read It may not seem a big difference.

  10. Have you read all the new proposed national standards? Looks like "more rigor" without a place for those who aren't interested in college, like a large number of my students.

  11. Duncan is definitely not part of "the right" yet Louisiana was turned down for Race to the Top money because we did not have 100% buy-in on school districts supporting his demand that teacher retention and compensation be directly tied to student performance. Looks like it might be "the left" that left out Louisiana.

  12. I think I'm seeing "rigor" as a good thing. But not necessarily for college. I think it's more like academically rigorous vocational training. The emerging reality is that every job needs a thinking person. The industrial model of don't think, just is not sustainable going forward.

  13. The problem is not Unions, but one size fits all union rules. In fact in NYC, the AFT was instrumental in negotiating flexible work rules and teacher salaries increased substantially since Bloomberg has been Mayor Mike.

  14. Perhaps something to consider. They may not need " a computer teacher." But perhaps they can see the value of a social media mentor. One possbiltiy might be to deliver very low cost professional development by managing an #edchat type of exchange for professional development. Or something similar to bring together the community, the teachers and the admins together.

    If you are interested I've recently been playing with "twitter tennis". You can check #TwitTen or #TwitTenLagos to see how it's playing out.

  15. I agree with your comments. People (ie the Government) are looking at education reform all wrong. You can't blame the teachers alone and start firing them en mass. You can't expect a school with all new staff can do better – you've lost all the connections to the students and their lives. Instead of attacking schools and teachers, you must get everyone working together. It is truly sad how the Obama administration has not lived up to people's hopes when it comes to education reform. He is supported very bad ideas and the Race To the Top is the worst idea for funding education.

    Here are more of my ideas and comments: http://educationaltechnologyguy.blogspot.com/2010

    See you around on Twitter!

    We need to work together and teachers need to take the lead.

  16. I think it would be helpful to more precisely deconstruct "Government" . In fact right now it is swirling around with lots of different people with different interests. I think you are spot on with teachers need to take the lead.

    In my convos with an educator in Lagos is precisely about schools that are owned by the teachers. I think translating this insight to American conditions makes lots of sense. Counter intuitively my bet is that would get support from some people in Washington. Especially if it were coupled with the idea of separating "educational" leadership from adminstrative responsiblity. The fact of the matter is that much of the expense of "staff" is overhead, middle managment staff that is amenable to automation.

  17. I think it would be very interesting if the next time someone suggests automating teaching to save money, the AFT would recommend automating administration instead.

  18. I'm amazed at your internal resolve despite your external circumstances. Remain true to who you are and keep your vision of helping the students and you will find the school which appreciates your many talents and your love of teaching kids. Your head and heart are in the right place so you will find that perfect position at the perfect school — I know it!

  19. Find a democratic or free school and work there. Check out Project Learn Schoolhttp://www.projectlearnschool.org/about.html in Philly. Come to the AERO Conference in June.http://www.educationrevolution.org/conference.htm

  20. It is frustrating not knowing what the future might hold. As far as your teacher friends on Twitter, a good system allows teachers to shine and live up to their potential!

  21. I may have to check it out, thanks!

  22. Interesting point. It was the unions who refused to sign the paperwork for RTTT, and it was the unions who voted for Obama!

  23. I'll have to check out the hashtags, thanks. The unfortunate thing is most schools do not have money in their budget for the kinds of positions you are describing, no matter how vital they are!

  24. Maybe someone should let the teachers run the Department of Ed!

  25. Thanks. Here's hoping!

  26. Honestly, MB, teachers who want to increase their viability with their respective districts could do a lot better than advocating using cell phone toys in the classroom.

    Cell phones are a short term fix, nothing more. Band aids are not the answer.

    We need more people like Joe Clark running the most at-risk urban schools.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Louis_Clark

  27. I'm not sure where the cell phone comment came from, but turning around struggling schools requires a multifaceted approach. I have a number of friends who teach in urban/at-risk schools who have found cell phones the perfect solution for student motivation or lack of supplies (i.e. pencils and paper).

    There are many reasons why schools fail, and student motivation and engagement is one and strong leadership and vision is definitely at the top of list.

    We can agree to disagree about 'toys' in the classroom :)

  28. Thanks for the wonderful resource. I have forwarded it to some forward-thinking educators I know!

  29. I agree 100%. With only limited direct experience I would value any thoughts you might have about how I see the problem.

    First, teachers do not have the time to do their jobs. Enormous amount of wasted energy and being busy, being busy. The other problem is a process for a path out for teachers who don't get it.

    My impression is that almost every teacher knows who is good and who is not so good in the building. I would think a simple on line survey – probably anonymous – would highlight those with problems very quickly. Once identified, the Union could take the lead with either a little help or info. For those few who really shouldn't be teaching, the Union could develop paths to alternative careers. The easiest to me is to help them start their own businesses or get some training edu job in a different sector.

  30. I find it interesting that in the quest to find solutions some teachers are willing to compromise their principles. I'm sure that more than a few pro-cell phone teachers are also concerned about the effects of second hand smoke and UV radiation on kids, based on the scientific research. Yet, despite the research on EM radiation, they'll opt to ignore it for the sake of professional expediency.

  31. I am confused how you could say that "I am a Teacher in Florida" was written by a disgruntled teacher. In fact she was a teacher of the year and donated, along with her husband, $30,000 to benefit her children.

  32. Even the most effective and dedicated teachers sometimes lose heart.

    A direct quote:
    "I am a teacher in Florida today, but as I watch many of my incredible, devoted coworkers being forced out of the profession as a matter of survival, I wonder: How long will I be able to remain a teacher in Florida?"

    To me, that is a disgruntled tone. Perhaps I chose the wrong adjective?

  33. [...] leaving the Philadelphia School District for a charter school in 2010 (a direct result of the Renaissance School Initiative), I have been watching the developments and news in the District very closely. I have read harsh, [...]

  34. [...] a school turnover from the inside, the metaphor really hits the mark. The first thing we found out when our school was declared a “Renaissance School” was that we were all going to be force transferred. In addition, just as Irvine renovates the [...]

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