A Quick Comment Concerning the School Day Posts
At first, I was only going to write one of these, but after I got started, I realized there was so much more to tell. This is the best portrayal of a typical day at my former school in DCPS that I could muster. While I mixed and matched a few things and changed people's names, the events are real.
I decided to write the posts for a few reasons. For me, it was cathartic and serves as a reminder of my experience at that school. For others, however, I wrote it as a means of insight. I'm afraid that when people discuss education policy in this country, all too often you hear teachers complain that their job is hard and lawmakers, journalists (I'm looking at you Newsweek), and the public not only raising their expectations for teachers, but admonishing them as the bane of American education. Rarely, however, do many of these people take a look at the day-to-day realities of teachers in urban education.
The day that I write about is a TYPICAL day. It's exhausting, and it's not sustainable for more than a few years (if you can last that long). I'm single with no kids and no pets, and I've often felt like I can barely manage it. No wonder we lose most teachers within the first five years. We're simply not going to build and maintain a teacher workforce large enough and good enough to perform the Herculean task of overcoming the flaws in our system in this kind of environment. So when Newsweek or Jay Matthews suggest that the answer to education's problems is to find the best of the best and expect them to work longer hours, take phone calls at home to help students with homework, and tutor kids over the weekends, I get offended. Teachers work long enough hours as it is, especially first and second-year teachers. After a while, you begin to realize that your job has completely consumed you and you want something for yourself: a social life, a time to relax, a family. We can't expect teachers to forgo these things. They need them for their mental health and humanity. And the same is true for almost everybody in public education, from superintendents to administrators to school social workers. Almost everyone is overworked.
So before we continue our rant about firing all the bad teachers, let's remind ourselves (or learn about) what it really takes to do the job. Bringing in a whole new type of teacher without fundamentally looking at the way our society deals with poverty, housing development, property taxes, job opportunities, etc. is not going to solve much at all. Rather than focusing on firing bad teachers, we'd do significantly better to focus on revamping the way we train teachers, the ways we support teachers, and the way we hold ALL stakeholder in education responsible, which should include policymakers, administrators, parents, teachers, and students (an interesting aspect of NCLB is that while it has lots of ways to punish districts and schools, there's nothing about holding students accountable).
For anybody reading that's outside the system looking in, I hope this provides a little bit of clarity on the crisis that those of us in teaching are facing. And I hope that our country will begin to see some of the shortcomings of the focus Obama and Duncan have put on market-based solutions to our public education system. We'd all do well to read a little more Diane Ravitch and a little less Newsweek.