So… you want to be a teacher.

You need to really, really think about this.

I’m not trying to scare you away; I’m just trying to prepare you. You can’t go thinking that liking kids, that kids liking you, that believing you can make a difference, that wanting to make a difference, that being smart…you can’t think that any of that is enough. It’s prerequisite, sure. But it isn’t nearly enough.

Not even close.

You need to be ready to pretty much give up a chunk of your life.

Once you have been teaching for a while, you’ll find yourself strategizing ways to carve out time for yourself, your family, your own health…because that time will mostly be taken by other people’s children and by other families. Planning, correcting papers, grading, and just decompressing can eat into your home life-the “you being you” for your family.  Challenging days will dry up your well of patience, and then what happens when you get home? What is left for your children? Your spouse?

If you decide to be more involved, in coaching, running clubs or activities, taking a leadership role in your union…be prepared for even more sacrifice. Attending board meetings or participating in the PTA, lending a hand for special events…deciding to be an educator, if you really take it on rather than just going through the motions, means time given to the endeavor and taken out of your life.

You need to prepare to have your heart broken.

Again, and again and again, in a hundred different ways. You will see kids beaten down psychologically and emotionally by the lives they live and the families their losing-life lottery dumped them into. Don’t think I’m being “judgy”, there is not enough time for me to share all the mothers who leave, fathers who return after getting out of jail, live-in boyfriend, custodial non-related “grandmother”, busted for meth and heroine stories I know. What I can tell you is that children come to school bearing this weight and you will have to try and shoulder some of it to help them get through the day and what you are told you have to do. The grit, the rigor, the “raised bars”, the tests and whatnot.

You will likely see girls having babies far too young, boys unable to take responsibility even if they are willing to try, and that custodial grandparent cycle will come back around for another generation. You could very well end up teaching the grandchildren of your former students. You could also see former students die. In war, by overdose, and in the most heartbreaking ways. You may hear of a sweet, funny, freckle-faced boy from your very first real elementary classroom who, for whatever reason, made it through high school but then took his own life.

You need to be prepared to have your profession both revered and reviled.

Despite all you will have dumped onto your lap and into your life, there will be rewards. When children are thrilled to see you, either in school or out in public, when you get notes of appreciation from them or from parents, it lifts a little of that weight and helps to keep the heartbreaks patched together.  Notes that say “[Enter student name here] never liked reading until he had you,” or “[Some other student] wants to come to school now because of you,”  are little pieces of treasure to keep safely tucked away to be pulled out and reread on those days you wonder why the hell you went into teaching.  Your students will know, and their parents will know how important you are, and you’ll see the “aha” moments in the classroom (where students get excited about learning something new);  when their work shows that they grasp a concept and gain some skills…those are the times that make a teacher keep coming back to brave the bad days.

At the same time, you will have to suffer the deliberate attacks on the profession you chose. Education “reformers” will look to reduce your worth to test scores, and the value of education to empty slogans like “college and career ready”. They have been and will continue to campaign to dismiss the parts of the job you have no choice but to do, while they promote schools that avoid those parts. They will paint you as greedy, because you expect a living wage and the deferred pay you contribute to a pension fund once you retire. You will be lumped into the “lazy” category because you get holiday and summer breaks that others don’t get (never admitting that if it were such a wonderful gig, it would pay more and more people would be doing it). You will see these “reformers” look to cheapen and de-professionalize teachers, reducing them to gigged, at will hires to fuel the education market they want to profit from.

They stake proud claim to agendas called “school choice”, and “the rights of parents”, while avoiding the essential truths behind what those slogans mean in practice and why more communities and schools and students are struggling to achieve better outcomes.

Good news is: despite reformer attacks on communities, schools, educators and students: parents overwhelmingly support public education and teachers, and want to see it funded and supported.

You will be confronted with your own old age.

Through the advancing lives of your students, you will see the truth in “Days crawl, but the years fly.” It is exhilarating, scary, and inspirational. One of my early career students is now substitute teaching in my school. She was in the staff room eating lunch and I noticed an engagement ring. Her fiance was a student in my homeroom two years before her. He has been working in the school also. Two of the sweetest kids ever…But holy cow! Where did the time go??? My oldest daughter just went to college, and many students I taught have as well.

I guess that must mean I’m getting older, right? I mean, that’s how time works…if it passes for them, it passes for me too. You don’t really feel it happen, but one day it hits you. After that day the hits keep coming. My god, the time has flown. But I am so happy I chose to do what I do.

Just be prepared to be reminded one day of how old you are getting.

So…do you still want to be a teacher?

If so, you are the type of person I want doing it. The type of teacher I would have wanted for my own, the type I want my someday grand-kids to have, the type I know kids desperately need.

And I hope I get to work with you before I’m done.

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Teaching is to Serve Stubbornly (Part II)

In Part I I describe my general intent to stubbornly share about teaching. Certainly non-teachers looking to criticize have much to say about the job, and unfortunately it’s often crazy stuff: blaming teachers for everything from cultural disconnect to poverty to crime and incarceration… But with all of that muddying the tone, intent and potential of “reform”, it’s good idea for everyone to connect with what teachers actually do (instead of create a tiny box for the results to fit in for a non-teacher’s approval). If there’s more understanding of the limitations of the actual job as it is, and some agreement on what others could/should do, we can have some shared accountability for better outcomes for children.

Teachers aren’t entertainers, delivery workers, or just visitors

Teachers can’t just pop-in at lunch time with some Subway food , visit, give lessons in lunchroom etiquette, play “cool dad” for the kids and then leave.

“I will keep visiting and modeling lunchtime behavior for my kids, and for their classmates who can’t get enough of me (I’m the cool Dad, sorry if you’re not) when I join them.” (Chris Stewart, writing about his kids’ school lunch program)

I am not “cool dad” (no apologies necessary, not my aspiration). But one thing Chris Stewart does, in this article, is echo the concerns my wife, I and my daughters have had have about school lunches. It wasn’t that many years ago that Marguerite (Mrs. Lincoln) was the one making the delicious homemade mac-n-cheese-the kind that gets crusty on top and a little burnt around the edges; or those big breasts and thighs of that crispy-skinned chicken; or the moist chocolate cake with the peanut-butter frosting. Sure, the mashed potades were instant, but a butter pat and some warm gravy and blamma-lamma, baby! Mrs. Lincoln is still around, helps out when needed and at special events even though “retired”, and other cafeteria ladies have come and gone. One of her twin grandsons was in my third-grade homeroom and he’s since graduated.

But our pots and pans are also gathering dust, just like the ones Stewart saw in his dismal tour of some “central nutrition center” (how “big brother” is that?). Rarely graced by the purpose of culinary style or allowed the privilege of being put to real use by those who know better, the facilities have been essentially “reformed”. An outside entity tracking and judging food consumption, sales, credits and debts- in real time via nutrition and cost VAM formula type technology. Those pots and pans and spoons and spatulas, dusty or not,  are all present and accounted for- assigned a specific value. The food itself? Doled out in accordance to specific metrics to meet standards, and regulations. So many carbs, this many grains, that many proteins… all defined by gritty and rigorous high expectations.

All that effort and regulation and data…and yet still somehow having absolutely no freakin’ soul, and appearing like cheap, crappy, institutional food meant to meet some minimal standard while making it appear that people above the people who care enough to do the job are doing right by our kids. Way back in that mac-n-cheese when, lunch had real quality and a purpose, and our girls had to be given a limit on buying lunch. Once a week, unless something really special popped onto the menu.

But cafeteria reform sucked the soul out of what the lunch once was, so my kids have “opted out” of school lunch since…well, since about the time it was “reformed”.

That’s “reform” and “accountability”.

Real issues are ignored in the attempt of those atop to push a “proficiency” narrative, a testocracy, on those below. And teachers are being made to comply. So they can’t just drop in with the popular stuff and then leave, you know: r-u-n-n-o-f-t. 

And we shouldn’t want them to.

Good teachers don’t stop, judge, sort and leave. They stay and serve, and we need them to. What teachers do and what we need them for goes way beyond all the test stuff. As much as they want to deny it or sidestep it, the champions of reform admit it when they cry “cultural disconnect!” (regarding teacher perceptions of student behavior in the classroom, hallway…cafeteria?) and “prison pipeline!“. Clearly (and I agree) teachers need to welcome students, nurture students, connect with them on a personal level in order to get them to engage with the academics…and apparently teachers need to keep them out of jail.

I don’t think that means driving the getaway car, and I don’t know the internal mechanisms of the classroom vs criminal choice that happens in the mind, but could community, home and family figure into the formula? In Stewart’s article, there is a brief side-trip to judge the the failures of parents, the unseemly behavior of school children and the intolerable adults they’ll someday be.

“I’ve visited schools where the lunch period was an extension of other learning periods. It wasn’t a free-for-all. Some parents might fight me on this one, I know. I can hear the protests about how kids need to be kids, and how they need free-time to be wild, loud, and childish.Wherever you are working today, look at the co-worker who gets on your last nerve. That person had parents like the ones I just described.

I have waited years for this glimmer of understanding from warriors of reform that parents have power to actively raise children, just as they have a passive right to wait for a “school choice” to be offered.

And yet I feel no pleasure.

Because imagine far worse than some unseemly table manners (My stars, I do indeed believe I shall come down with the vapours!), or having some fun in the cafeteria at lunchtime. Lets talk parents who come into conference reeking of weed and asking how they can get to volunteer to help and come in sometime, because they “might get some learnin'”. Imagine thinking that it really would do them good, but there is absolutely no way you can add two stoned adults to your roster. Their child, whom we were conferencing on (back when lunches were still good) left their home when he got the chance, a few years ago (at 12 or 13, I think). He’s turning out to be a fine young man determined to make good choices.

He says I’m his favorite teacher (a label I’ll take over “cool dad” any day), but I care less about that than him being one of my tentative shared-success stories. “Shared” because many others besides me (teachers, staff members and students) have been there for him and cared, and I’m sure he feels it. But I wouldn’t say he’s out of the woods- I worry about some students as if they were my own kids and in some danger zone or something. Maybe I’ll stop worrying once I know he’s safely reached thirty years old. His older sister who remained in the home just got busted for another parole violation. She’s looking at some serious time.

Teachers never stop caring, and parents make all sorts of choices, every day.

It’s teachers, there in school, dealing with the repercussions of parent choices right along with the students. Now maybe I am disconnected in my low SES, white, rural, tiny district. It could be that poverty, drugs, crime and instability in family and residency are more of a country white thing. You know, not so much an urban issue. It could be that in the big cities (the original target of education reforms) bad teachers and their unions are the biggest problems children face.

I don’t know, and I know that I don’t know. That’s why I reach out and communicate. With school leaders, with teachers, with parents who thought they had “choice” until they were un-chosen, others involved… Anything I learn helps.

“You’re not an authority on my children, my community, or my history. You are an agent of the state and you’re employed by the single greatest threat to free thought and black liberation.” 

The first part is right on. The last part is a bit much but I respect him for the times when he actually comes out with his convictions and willingness to say things others in the reform camp will not:

“I care about the successful education of 8 million black students. Whether or not charter schools are “public” is immaterial.”

Like acknowledging of the influence of parents, there’s some pure honesty in this message. And it identifies the mission. I know that teaching and teachers can improve. I know that I can improve. I know that my union can do far more to activate the troops and press for positive change. I’d bet I’m not the only educator that would admit those things. Tap dancing around, engaging in pretending “choice” is a public construct just makes some reform advocates look silly, and I’ll take Stewart’s honesty over the dance.

 

Evaluations That Make Sense

Did I actually get an email from NYSUT asking for money for the “No NY Convention Fund”, or is it scam email? I know shady people are out there pulling email scam stuff like that. Anyways, I know my union leadership would be motivated to advocate for more respect of my colleagues and inclusion of them in the process of education and constructing/collaborating on a new and more sensible evaluation. That’s why when I saw the “give us more money” I thought it was for a campaign to raise awareness of efforts like Assembly Bill A04016, submitted in January. I hadn’t gotten any emails about it, but it looks promising.

Here is the justification text:

“This bill repeals the current teacher and principal evaluation system.The current method needs to be overhauled as it ties much of a teacher and principal’s evaluation to an admittedly flawed curriculum and high stakes testing regime. This bill empowers the Board of Regents to create a new method for evaluating our state’s teachers and principals and makes sure that they will do so in a manner that takes into account all tried-and-true methods of evaluating an individual’s success. Continue to link our children’s educational future to a flawed system is wrong.”

Go to the NY Assembly page and check it out. Here’s the first ten lines. I’ll donate to get this passed and I believe that many, many teachers that would get behind this.

1 Section 1. Section 3012-d of the education law is REPEALED and a new
2 section 3012-d is added to read as follows:
3 § 3012-d. Teacher and principal evaluation system. 1. The board of
4 regents shall establish a new annual teacher and principal evaluation
5 system.
6 2. The new evaluation system shall be established with requisite input
7 from education experts, school administrators, parents, and teachers.
8 3. The new evaluation system shall be presented to the commissioner,
9 legislature, and governor as a report by no later than January thirty-
10 first, two thousand nineteen.

I’ll be raising awareness to oppose the convention, and I’m assuming dues are already partially spent in that direction. What about this legislation that could make a huge difference and inspire collaboration among all stakeholders?

Protect the Children

Protect the children from your incremental surrender and ignorance.

Invite them and their families into the schools you love and your children so enjoy as opposed to attacking their schools that are being left undermined and abandoned. Fight to have their neighborhoods safe, their families sheltered, their bellies full and their water clean. Use nonprofit millions- not to fund your agenda but to fund reading programs and become actively involved in a good food, great books and warm beds initiative that will help send more children ready to learn into the schools you are so eager to hold accountable (while you are so unwilling to share your own).

Do more than posture, preen and judge-otherwise you are worse than useless-you are an actual danger and the children need to be protected from you.

Let’s keep “choice” honest

Instead of repeating the words choice and accountability as if they are stand alone solutions and suggesting that the most important results are linked to fudge-able stats (test scores, graduation rates…) we should be demanding real educational accountability- for honesty; for integrity; for the good of all children, not just the ones with parents equipped to participate in the “choice” market.

And while those streaking across our public commons with their shiny, well-funded behinds hanging out, waving a banner saying “Me saying ‘accountability’ proves how much I care about the poors” can appear honest-we never really get into HOW the exemplar supposed stellar performing charter schools achieve their results.

This should also be part of the conversation.

Now I am fully in favor of parental right to choose. My wife and I  spent a lot of our time chasing down choices that according to regulations should have been available, and then got told it depends on whether a school can afford to or wants to provide them. When alternative choices or settings exist, parents should be free to choose them but better questions would be:

  1. Why are our traditional schools not empowered to bring Al Shanker’s original vision for locally controlled, professionally driven charters to life within the public school system?
  2. Why all the praise for the opaque, privately controlled, selective charters who are held up for comparisons to disrespected and underfunded traditional schools?

A prime example is Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz who has been clear and proud about how she keeps some students out, gets rid of others, refused to sign standard preK contracts for funding then claims that holding her to them hurts children.

“If they backfilled older grades, [Moskowitz] said, the incoming students’ lower relative academic preparation would adversely affect the schools’ other students.”

Traditional, truly public schools are not free to operate this way and their doors are open to any student coming to them regardless of their readiness to learn. They don’t filter their enrollments to artificially stroke and protect their testing and graduation stats (ala’ Moskowitz). They plow ahead, underfunded and over-mandated, trying to meet the needs of a mixed group of students that include top students and peers needing maximum support. It’s not just disingenuous to disparage obligation and prop up artifice-it’s shameful.

And yet every time a pro-choicer wants to prove the value of “choice”, Moskowitz’s “high performing” Success Academy is held up like a beacon with little examination of how she and the school is allowed to operate in order to make protecting those results first (putting students second). Not only is she more than willing to defend how the school filters in and pushes out students, she is shameless in her self-promotion, willing to  empty her schools of staff and students to lobby in the streets for her private, selective enterprise during school time! 

AND she had the nerve to call it a civics field trip or something. But who wrote that lesson plan?

“An option was not presented. The schools assigned everyone with a job, so you were either going to be an instructional coach or a bus captain,” one teacher explained. “They weren’t really asking us if that’s what we wanted to do. They were telling us that that’s what we were going to do instead of teaching for the day.”

Can you imagine the Education Post articles that would have been written if local schools had done this in order to push for and end to the ongoing failure of the Governor to meet public school funding obligations?

I do believe high quality choice means honest choice through valid comparison of earned (not manufactured) results that include test scores but go beyond.

Maybe the NAACP has some ideas on how to make this happen. Some way where we can have honest choices and valid comparisons instead of transparent campaigns to undermine schools that belong to the public.