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Thursday, December 24, 2009

I Wanna Fight

If you've ever heard and related to Chevelle's song, "Forfeit," then you know exactly how I feel. It's not actually about forfeiting, it's about fighting. The lyrics I relate to most right now are below:

"Make my mind up, to go through this,
Or be firm and sit in silence.
'Cause I want to fight,
I want to fight,
I want to prove I'm right.
I want to fight,
I want to fight,
So turn and forfeit
Forfeit."

I feel I'm in a similar situation. The dilemma I've been faced with since I took a job in DC has been whether to push through all the BS in my school and in the district or give up and find a decent place to work.

In the last two weeks before DCPS went on winter break, I think I came to a breaking point of sorts. On December 10th, I was almost positive that I would be leaving my school at the end of the semester. By December 11th, I was reconsidering. And by 15th or 16th, I was sure I would stay for the remainder of the year, and I still am.

It was the last week before the break that really did it for me. The administration went way out of bounds in terms of their professional behavior. It became abundantly clear to me that they are not interested in developing good teachers. Rather, they're interested in bullying developing teachers to suit their egos. The administrators have gone out of their way to make the lives of some of my colleagues miserable.

Comments like, "You just don't have the drive to be a good teacher."

Or

"You could be a good teacher, but I just don't think you care enough about the kids."

Or

"If I could teach every class in this department, I would. At least then I could be confident it was being done right. Unfortunately, I have to rely on you."

Much of this, I suspect, is driven by their own personal egos. Many of them have a need to show others, especially new teachers, that they are superior and more knowledgeable. Another part may be that many of the teachers are relatively new to the profession. (We see this all to often in schools that need experienced teachers the most.) These new teachers (including myself) are obviously not ready to be GREAT teachers in the urban classroom, but instead of supporting us in order to get to GREAT, the administration berates us so that we leave early.

On Tuesday of last week, one of these egregious behaviors on the part of the administration happened to the colleague that I'm closest to. I won't mention the details on here, but trust me, it was egregious. I suppose I could have heard about this incident and used it to justify quitting to myself in January. But something else happened. I decided I was fed up. I got really, really angry. And I still am.

I'm going to use this anger. I'm going to fight. I'm going to stay at my school and fight this. I'm going to organize; I'm going to speak up over and over again; I'm going to send my admins my lesson plans every day and every other little piece of teacher work that I do so that when my evaluations come around and they want to tell me how I fall short of all of their expectations, I'll have all of this stuff to throw in their face. I'm going to take the crap I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis to the principal (and already have with another colleague - but I'm going to continue) and the district. I'm going to document every single interaction I have with the administrators and I'm going to hit the record button on my camcorder in the corner of my room any time they come to observe (because many of them have been accused of lying about what happened to lower the scores of teachers). The environment I work in is absolutely toxic. I don't know a single teacher that enjoys the school I work at. It's not right, and I'm sick of it.

I'm fully aware that making noise, organizing, and bringing issues like these to the district is a) likely to get me fired, and b) probably a big waste of time when it comes to changing anything, but I really don't care. I don't need a job here. I know I'm a good teacher; I'll just go get a job in another district somewhere.

I suppose, in some weird way, I can thank my administration for this. I'm angry about the world again, in a way I haven't been since I was a sophomore in college. They've renewed my sense of fairness and justice in the world. I see teaching now, more than ever, as an act of social justice, not only because it attempts to provide children light with which to see the world for what it is, but also because it requires tremendous efforts in some environments to battle both student apathy and administrative shortcomings (shortcomings being a really nice way to put it).

So I want to fight; I want to prove I'm right; I want to change this. As a result, I expect the coming six months to be a gigantic lesson in what it takes to fight entrenched powers.

8 comments:

  1. I am astounded that you have to teach under these conditions. It's not enough that you have challenging students and environment, but you have to deal with that kind of crap from administrators! They should be working hard to try and keep good teachers.

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  2. A short list of other people who got angry, organized, and challenged the establishment:

    Cesar Chavez
    Mahatma Gandhi
    Dr. King
    Medgar Evers
    Dred Scott

    As long as you keep your focus on education and the students, righteous indignation can be a powerful force for change. You have our backing and support, as always.

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  3. Good for you. I've always seen you as angry but you've obviously found a focus for it that involves, in fact requires, staying at that school. I think you've taken the more difficult route with your anger, but the route that could effect the most immediate and dramatic change.

    I also have now a pretty good sense of why they don't hire or keep vets there. Adminstrators know that the vets would immediately see through the crap. Some less experienced teachers may think, for a while, at least, that the criticism is valid, and they are more hurt by it.

    Keep in mind, that central administration is well aware that this is going on and they let it continue. Why? I don’t know, but it can’t be for any good reason that involves helping children.

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  4. Good for you. That feeling came to me around February last year so you have 2 more months to work with than I did. I can help you from making the same mistakes. Everything worth believing in is worth fighting for.

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  5. My problem is also from the administration rather than the students. And I am also angry. However, I am not in DCPS.

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  6. Many teachers feel powerless and this leads to depression. However, a teacher actually has great power, sanctioned by law, and more than other workers in most other jobs. Unfortunately this power is often unrecognized and therefore not used. Here are "tricks" I learned during my 42 years of teaching:

    If you are threatened or assaulted by a parent or student, file a report with the police. You don't need an administrator to do this, although they will try to make you think it's necessary to have their consent.

    If something shocking happens at your school, inform the press.

    If you are being mistreated by administrators, see a labor attorney. He or she might be able to help.

    If you are harassed by an administrator, inform the administrator in writing, and then send copies to the chancellor and each member of the Board of Education. (No, Rhee won't care but it will embarrass her.)

    Keep a tally of acts of harassment. When an administrator enters your room, stop what you are doing, get a clipboard, look at the clock and take notes. Harassment is against the law.

    Take note of every illegal act at school, such as failure of principal to report child abuse, pressure on a teacher not to report abuse, cheating on state tests, and fraud with federal funds regarding special education (usually a big one in most city districts). Report each act to the proper authorities. Ask for the support of groups such as ACLU and NAACP in addition to local and national teachers unions.

    Many teachers believe they are victims but they don't have to be. You sound like a fighter so keep at it!

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  7. One more suggestion: Each time an administrator harasses you, complain in writing and send a copies to his or her superiors. For example, if the administrator says, "Unfortunately, I have to rely on you," put his exact words in writing and send copies to him and everyone above him. Do this each and every time. If he comes back at you in a punitive way, put this in writing also and send it out. In the meantime, develop very good relations with the parents of your students. You can do this by calling them with positives about their children. They are your best allies and can make big trouble for administrators if they choose to fight for you.

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  8. Many of us teach with amorphous expectations. It is the role of the administrator to explain these expectations and to nurture new teachers. This is often poorly done.

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