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Saturday, September 15, 2012

I Sweat With Chicago Teachers

I had to laugh when I read that one of the complaints Chicago teachers voiced, as they prepared for and went on strike, was a lack of air conditioned classrooms. I was not laughing at their predicament but at the universal condition of being "fed up."

You have probably had the same experience. The one where you put up with things and then put up with more things and you take it for a while and then a bit longer and then SNAP. Suddenly (and often over something not very significant) you can't take not even one more moment of stupidity or abuse or rudeness or disrespect or incompetence or discomfort or as is the case for the teacher's union all of the above. They've had it. They've had it with nonsensical evaluations, inadequate pay, junk science based value add measures, attacks on tenure and a lack of air conditioners and I feel uplifted by their courage.

As for sweating with my midwestern colleagues, last week temperatures in my room (coupled with the humidity) sent one girl home with heat stroke. Oh yes Chicago, I sweat with you and to prove it, I sent  $50 to your solidarity fund.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Should I bother to learn the new teacher's name?

Once again we have a new language teacher at our school. I'm debating whether or not I should learn his name, as everyone at my school (except him) knows he is merely a temporary employee. Across the near decade that I have worked at my school, we have employed at least eight different foreign language teachers (it could be more but my memory gets fuzzy when I think back to year one and two).

Some people think it is difficult to fire teaching staff. Well if that is true, I have seen no evidence of it. My principal goes through staff at an alarming rate. Easily a quarter of the staff changes every year, most notably special education teachers and those who teach the "extras" - foreign language, arts/music and ELL instructors. Why do they come and go like Kardashian love interests?

That interesting question is one that the administration should be examining but of course, never has. That would require insight, oversight, planning and a wee bit of empathy. All of which are in as short supply as copy paper in June.

In my opinion, there are two main reasons we experience such high turnover. First, we hire teachers who we know are temporary. My school has hired a number of Teach for America members who knew they would not be staying in the profession never mind at our school. Typically at the end of year two but sometimes at the end of year three, they give their notice. Personally I have liked the TFA people I worked with. They have energy and access to many resources but while working at an inner-city school for 370 days may be good for their resumes, it is not good for our school community. The second reason staff passes through like Taco Bell through the digestive track has to do with the nature of certain teaching positions. Some teachers, like the music teacher, are responsible for providing instruction to the entire student body. That is an amazingly difficult thing to do. It is hard to learn the names of more than 200 hundred students. It is near impossible to form the relationships with students that foster academic and emotional growth. But rather than help these staffers meet the unique challenges of their positions by modifying assignments or offering extra supports, our management team just fires them or refuses to grant tenure or makes their lives so miserable they quit.

ELA and math teachers practically crawl with the weight of accountability heaped upon them. So why aren't administrators held accountable for their inability to maintain a stable staff? Hell if I know but then again, I don't even know the Spanish teacher's name.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I'm in a funk

I've taught for several years now and I've never started a school year feeling like this. Usually I'm so excited the night before the students come to school that I can't sleep. This year I feel sad and defeated.  I think "it" is catching up to me.

"It" is the deep understanding that I am no longer educating my students. I'm training them. Training them like god damn seals. Training them to merely pass exams and that is not what I signed up for. It was not acceptable for my child. It should not be acceptable for these children but there it is.

There is little, if any, talk at my school about the need to shape our students as human beings and I feel sick about it. Schools for wealthy students gear their instructional year around themes such as tolerance, giving or courage. My school is planning to meet once a week to compare one week's test results with the next week's test results (as if learning/understanding is linear). We have no meetings scheduled to discuss emotional growth. We will not be discussing improvements in demonstrable generosity. Nor will we work to develop leadership skills. There is no time to care about the whole child anymore and that makes me wholly sad.