yesterday I received an email that was sent to a group of teachers who are very active in attempting to prevent the destruction of American public education. The author advocated teachers being prepared not to vote in 2012 if our voices are not listened to, if our voices are not heard.
Before anyone reacts, remember - this is a cry of desperation.
It comes from fear that our lives' work is being destroyed before our eyes.
It comes as we find ourselves hit with body blow after body blow
... by the administration
... by the coordinate roll-out of "Waiting for Superman"
... by what has happened so far with the Education Nation event organized by NBC.
It is not that we are isolated in our struggles against the destructive approach of this administration. In a piece deliberately alluding to a work by the President, Diann Woodard, herself president of the American Association of School Administrators, posted The Audacity of Hopelessness at Huffington Post, which I urge you to read, and from which I quote several passages, each accompanied by a brief commentary from me:
When Washington applauds school boards for firing principals and teachers without due process, as was done in Central Falls, Rhode Island and continues to be done in less publicized systems, it not only violates the legal rights of educators covered by collective bargaining agreements, it reduces the complex task of administering improvements to the crude, pass-fail simplicity of a Donald Trump TV show.
I especially like the reference to Trump - "You're Fired" displays the kind of arrogance that presumes the one offering or supporting such statement is so full of self-confidence ans sureness of one's own rightness as to be deaf and blind to the possibility that s/he is wrong. For an increasing number of America's educators - administrators as well as teachers - that is how we are experiencing this administration and those who support its approach to education.
By constantly imposing new, experimental programs on us -- no matter how well intentioned -- they are breeding failure. How do they expect children to succeed when there's no stability in the approaches Washington is foisting on us, and no continuity in teaching programs from one year to the next?
"experimental programs" - such as the four acceptable methods under Race to the Top to turn around failing schools, not one of which has ever demonstrated success even by the standard of improving test scores: not with the same students. And that is a piss-poor measurement to use. I might mildly quibble with Woodard, because some of these approaches are not new, they have been tried and have failed to demonstrate success.
The fact is, we're an easy mark for academics and Washington policy wonks, because no one sees the principal as having a relationship to the growth of a child. Much of the work we do, so essential for keeping the system functioning, such as maintaining the physical plant or coping with the environment outside the school, is invisible to the public. We're seen solely in relation to teachers.
As a result, we're forced to deal with the contentiousness inherent in the business model that says, "If it doesn't work, throw it out." Approaches like these aren't turnaround plans; they simply turn a blind eye to the reality educators must confront, especially in communities where poverty and crime are more pervasive.
Woodard complains that principals are seen solely in relation to teachers. Let me expand that - they are seen solely in relation to teachers with respect to how teachers are seen in relation to student test scores. With or without "value-added" approaches to test scores, that reduces what is considered to a relatively small part of what we teachers have to deal with, and thus also with what principals have to deal with -
maintaining the physical plant - an environment where there is mold on the walls, where vermin are visible or at least their droppings, where there are no doors on bathroom stalls, where roofs leak, etc. - none of this is conducive to learning. It gives students the clear message that their learning really does not matter. And for all the responsibility for the plant that principals may have, they often lack the resources and/or the authority to address such issues: the resources because such repairs cannot be paid from their budgets, the authority because certain repairs can only be done by central office personnel of whom there may be too few. Imagine a district with over 150 schools, many of which have well over 1,000 students. Think how many doors there are. Now imagine that there is exactly one locksmith employed by a central office to address all issues about locks on doors, within the building or leading to outside. Trust me. This is not an unknown situation.
Rather than glib condemnations, what's needed is a new spirit of cooperation, one in which all the stakeholders in public education -- especially school administrators -- are consulted on solutions rather than being targeted for vilification. Instead, we've been completely shut out of policy decisions.
To this I can only add the following: welcome to my world. Welcome to the world of teachers, who are mentioned only to be criticized. Oh I know, people say how important teachers are, and how much good teachers are to be valued, but then dismiss most of what we do by insisting on evaluating us primarily or solely by student test scores, which is something over which we actually have relatively little control.
We're the ones at ground zero in public education, directly involved in communities throughout the country. Parents send us what they hold most precious, their children, and we're charged with sending them back a better person.
Yet policy makers seem blind to the realities we face, primary among them the fact that our children aren't machines. Some of them are struggling before they ever get to school. Many of them come to us from dysfunctional families and have totally different levels of readiness that don't lend themselves to standardized, near-term tests as true measures of success. In some cases, success means teaching a child just to learn to read and write.
we're charged with sending them back a better person - as a teacher I will refrain from criticizing the poor grammar demonstrated in that - it is a such a common error that it almost seems pointless to address, although were she my student MS. Woodard would find some remarks from me on this paper.
policy makers seem blind to the realities we face - or unwilling to understand. They claim when we raise such issues that we are making excuses, that we are prepared to leave children behind. They do not seem to grasp that we raise such issues because to ignore them IS to leave those children behind, to deprive them of the full, rich and meaningful education to which they should be entitled instead of the restricted, test-prep oriented education that has increasingly become their lot over the past decade.
Woodard concludes as follows:
Constantly condemning the school administrators and teachers who are struggling to cope with the complex challenges we face does little but cause the public to lose all hope that we can succeed. If there's no hope in the community, there's no hope in the school. So, the question that cries out is: What hope is there for the child?
What hope is there for the child? That SHOULD be the question. And it is not answered by saying we will raise her test scores. And then? A child makes her test scores but still cannot write sufficiently well enough to focus in a post-secondary educational setting? Has not learned how to manage time or organize his work? Lacks basic understanding of how our political and governmental systems are supposed to function? Has missed the chance to explore dimensions of learning that can expose one to new ways of thinking and expressing?
Woodard writes from the perspective of an administrator. I think the frustration she feels is palpable.
Welcome to my world, the world of the teacher. Only we have gone beyond frustration to anger.
I hear discussions of doing what teachers in the UK did - refusing to administer tests on the grounds that since they are damaging to the children it would be a violation of our professional responsibility to do so, just as much as it would be a violation of the responsibility of a medical professional to only use quack remedies to treat the conditions s/he can diagnose in a patient. It is that serious. It is that damaging to those for whom we assume responsibility.
Teacher anger. It is not enough, and we cannot make the changes in attitude and policy by ourselves, because we are excluded from the policy discussions and decision-making.
I suspect we will see increasing anger from other educational professionals. And then, as it dawns on them how much their children are being cheated, by parents.
But by then we will have failed several more cohorts, maybe even a generation, of students.
By then we will have alienated a generation of teachers, the very ones whose presence and dedication we need to make a difference in the lives of our students.
I am the union rep for my building. The anger and frustration are expanding, almost exponentially. It is reaching dangerous levels. And this is in an outstanding school with a national reputation for excellence.
I focused on the piece by Woodard because it served as a useful vehicle to help people who are not teachers realize how serious the situation is.
I write this from my home. I will not go to school today. It is a furlough day. It should be a professional development day, a paid professional development day. We are not losing instructional time, not directly. Yet we are expected to fulfill all our responsibilities, including those that cannot be done during the instructional time, only now we must do it on our own time, for less money. This at a time when our compensation proportionate to our qualifications is slipping ever further behind our peers who chose other occupations. And at a time when it becomes increasingly acceptable to bash and demean what we do, to insist on taking away our professionalism.
Our schools are short of money. That is why so many states are agreeing to the destructive policies under Race to the Top - they are desperate for money.
I cannot help but think that if Joe Stiglitz was right, that we will have spent $3 trillion on a war of choice in Iraq, we can in part understand why schools are in trouble. That would be 10,000 for every American alive, which is more than the average per child expenditure in the average American public schools.
It has often been said that if you want to know a person's priorities in life, examine his checkbook when he dies. By that standard this nation does not value the education of its children.
That makes me angry.
I am not alone in my anger.
I raise my voice because my anger is righteous, on behalf of the students entrusted to my care.
Teachers are angry.
If our anger is not assuaged, if we are not listened to, the consequences even in the near future might not be pretty.
Do with this what you will. But do not say you were not told.