Wednesday, March 24, 2010

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.


  1. RE,

    You ignore the fact that most of the people who criticize teachers are doing so for political reasons. They have no interest in how hard being a teacher can be because teaching being hard doesn't fit in with their worldview.

    I can't count the number of parents who seem to believe that they could teach more effectively then me if they didn't have a more important job to do.

  2. I am so sick of career dabblers. They stay in teaching for one or two years maximum, like some kind of Peace Corps commitment. And then they leave when they find out the administrators are jerks, or the students are not poor minority kids needing to be saved but rude, entitled jerks who also happen to be low income and the lesson planning and testing are tedious. The veteran teachers who you secretly believe are beneath you, less educated, with shabbier majors, from lesser universities, could have told you all this from the beginning. But you gave them the cold shoulder to pal around with your more like peers. Since when is teaching all about you? What is so hot about what you have to offer that a school system should care and want to keep you or invest in you?

  3. This is great. It is important for the country to read what happens in schools every day without the political spin. I hope to contribute to this effort.

    Mike C

  4. Thank you.
    I enjoy your posts.

  5. Anon at 806: I thank you for your comment, but I'm very confused. I love teaching; I don't think poor minority kids are rude and entitled jerks; I didn't go to an Ivy League school; I'm not leaving teaching and education (I plan to stay in it the rest of my life); I never said any school should want me over any more experienced teacher - there isn't a whole lot that makes me "so hot."

    Who are you? What are you really angry about? And why in the world would you make those assumptions about me based on that post?

  6. I'm not that Anonymous at 8:06, and I love your posts; however, I can see how a one time viewer might get that impression and misunderstand the humor. Just like the reference to "duds" previously, there is always the assumption that we do not come from the same environment as our kids, or that we are white ivy-leaguers.

  7. I don't come from the same environment as my kids, and while I'm not a white ivy-leaguer, I was kind of close (damn you Brown, you broke my heart).

    Does that mean I can't teach kids other then white middle class kids? That's crazy. I'll be the first to admit that I don't share every experience my kids have had, and some of them come from home environments and situations I can't imagine living through. That doesn't mean I can't teach them and try to support them as best I can.

  8. Wrym1 got it right - the people in charge just want to run teachers into the ground so they'll quit after a few years and can be replaced by a new batch of cheap teachers.

    These people obviously don't care about the kids either.

  9. It doesn't mean you can't teach the kids. My point is that now the assumption is that ALL the new teachers are TFA, White, ivy-league (or close). I'm black, non Ivy-league (not even close) and lived in an environment not too unlike my kids. But in all the PD's and talks from the Chancellor's office and even on my course at AU, it is always about how we need to be taught how to reach the kids, try and identify with them, etc. Excuse me, but I was one of them..... you don't need to teach me that bit! They also assume that all the veteran teacher's were lazy, unprofessional, uneducated blacks. I'm not saying that the assumptions are correct, I'm just saying that the assumption from the Administration is NEVER that you are black, educated, intelligent, professional, and from the same environment as the kids we teach. It's a little (actually a lot) insulting to be talked about in such a "case study" type way by people who've never actually lived in my community.

  10. I should add that the Anonymous 7:22 PM is not the same as Anonymous 8:06 PM, but the one from 5:30 PM (glad that's clear!!!)

  11. Kings and Wyrm1: I agree. A lot of people in this debate do not have the interests of the students at heart.

    I also think there are a lot of people out there confused about what to think about it because they don't know what it's like to be in the system. They're easily fooled by the smoke being blown by politicians and articles like the one in Newsweek persuading them that they should fear teachers and that the single most important thing we can do to improve education is fire the bad ones. Maybe some of these people can be swayed.

  12. I haven't seen the Newsweek. I'll try to check it out.