Despite the negative tone of some recent posts about my school, there are a number of reasons I think it's a great place to work. Here are a few of them.
1. I love the kids.
Every school has its share of 'reluctant learners,' but my current students, all in all, are actually quite a pleasure to work with. There's not a lot of animosity between teachers and students. While I do have some alcoholics and drugs addicts, and one kid who's probably mentally ill, I wouldn't call any of my kids malicious. As recently arrived immigrants aging between fifteen and nineteen, my students have generally bought into the system. They believe an education will make their lives better. They don't understand how hard they will have to work if they really want to graduate and go to college, but they understand being in school is better than the alternative.
My students are also very rambunctious and seriously enjoy each others' company. There's no such thing as an inside voice in my school. It gets annoying sometimes, but I like it. They're funny, too. I would never stay with teaching if I couldn't find humor in every class period. An example: today I told one of my kids to take his hat off. He shrugged, took his hat off, but upon being reminded of what was on it, pointed at the logo and said, "Pero meeeeester - JETS!" I couldn't stop laughing. I love my kids.
2. My grade-level team has lots of autonomy. Also - I love my colleagues.
The administration has given my eleventh-grade team an enormous amount of autonomy in addressing the needs of our kids. We all share the same kids. They move together throughout the day. We have two-hour team meetings in which we discuss student needs, curriculum, and anything else that comes up throughout the year. I know what you're thinking (if you're a teacher). "Oh Jesus - anything but meetings." But they run well! We talk about important things and get things done. We call kids in, call their parents together, and talk about how we could improve our curriculum. We're also able to change the schoolday around as we see fit. And when a group of teachers sits down and hashes out the best schedule to meet the needs of the kids, you don't hear anyone complaining about getting a shorter prep or lunch.
The team I'm on also has a ton of great teachers on it. We were all hired to be the first teachers to teach the eleventh-grade (expanding school). We're all refugees from abysmal work environments, but we're all capable, competent teachers who are willing to sacrifice for this kids. The rest of the teachers on the staff are, too (with the exception of maybe two). They're dedicated, and importantly, they have a sense of humor.
3. I have an amazing relationship with the administration.
I dare say I have the best relationship with the administration of any teacher on staff, which is good since I'm the UFT chapter leader. I wonder if they treat me so well because I'm the chapter leader, but they seem to trust me, believe I'm a highly capable teacher, and allow me a ton of leeway to make professional judgements. I feel completely comfortable telling them when I disagree with them and actually love when they walk in my room. It's amazing what you can do when you get support.
4. My administrators are not drones; they're former teachers.
Both of the the administrators are former teachers, and each taught for over a decade. The AP, who's in charge of instructional matters, is incredibly knowledgable and bends over backwards to help new teachers. This is the first time in my career that I can go to someone in school (and it's especially notable that it's the administration), ask a question, and know I'm going to get practical advice that will work in the classroom. My professional development needs are absolutely being met. I am becoming a much better teacher all the time.
5. We are urgently concerned about meeting every student's needs.
We are always talking about how to meet the needs of all students, which, in itself, is no different than most schools. The difference is that it's not just administrative bull. We actually have realistic ideas about how to do it. The attitude emphasizes thinking about students as individuals rather than groups. Failing a student is seen as granting the student the luxury of an extra year of education that s/he may desperately need. We are working toward creating a rich curriculum oriented around discipline-specific and broader skill and content outcomes that I've never experienced in any other school. Rather than grading assignments, we assess a student as highly proficient, proficient, or not yet proficient on predetermined outcomes. Not all teachers are quite there yet, but I think we're making progress, and I believe in the model.
6. We're on the cutting edge of ESL instruction.
My school is part of a larger network of schools that has been pioneering effective instruction of English language learners (ELLs) for over twenty years. 100 percent of all students who attend schools in the network are ELLs. We serve students with a range of English ability, from students who literally know not a word to students who can read and discuss college-level English literature. Many of the problems we encounter have no research base to rely on. We are, in fact, creating the research base. Researchers come into our classrooms to observe how language is used and taught on a daily basis. This has taught me to get away from relying on what I learned in teacher school about effective instructional strategies and forced me to come up with my own ways of reaching each of my kids, which is sometimes more effective.
For these reasons and more, I love my job. There are obviously, however, a number of challenges, many of which have me convinced that I will not be in New York longer than a year or two. Not tonight, though. Those will have to be the topic of my next post.