Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Business of Schools

I am privileged to eat lunch daily with an amazing group of people consisting of the majority of the language arts and social studies departments at my school. There are about 10 of us that consistently eat lunch together and while lunchtime topics vary (the Bachelor is a weekly discussion - although not from me - and we've been known to have heated discussions regarding proper grammer or what was on NPR on the way to school that morning) the discussion today naturally focused on the Rhode Island Central Falls High School, where most of the teachers and administration (88 total staff) were fired quite publicly by the school board.

This topic has been discussed enough in other places online, so I will not go into it here, except to say that there is probably quite a lot that is not being reported and that this move was part of a federal program that I think has extremely negative possibilities, called the Race to the Top.

However, as part of that lunchtime discussion, one of the other lunch people mentioned an article written by a Seattle teacher named Kathy Saxon. I don't know Ms. Saxon, but after reading the article, which I've linked to below, I'd certainly like to. She seems to know what she's talking about and says it articulately and exactly the way I'd like to say it. Let me state first that I am not opposed to changing the way I teach. I want to grow as a teacher and I want to be better at my job. I am very much aware of the fact that there are bad teachers, just as there are bad employees in ANY field and I fully support getting rid of those teachers, especially in high-need districts.

However, one of the things that seems to have been a target of the federal government lately is the idea that if a student is not successful, it is totally the fault of the teachers. Let's do some math, shall we? I only see my kids for 50 minutes a day, for 181 days TOTAL, if they are at school every day. That means I directly influence them for 9,050 minutes at the most. By the time they reach me (around age 16), they have been alive for approximately 8.5 million minutes - and shockingly, most of those minutes do not take place in a school environment. It's almost as if things like hunger, poverty, abuse and dysfunction have negatively impacted them.

I know that there are many people that have managed to bring themselves out of horrendous homelives, and become successful, but there's a reason that those people make the news when they do so. It is rare. Just like out of the millions of aspiring athletes and artists, it's rare to be an professional athlete or musician. There is a reason that low-performing schools are located in low-income areas. It's not the schools creating the low income, it's the low income areas creating the schools.

I know from personal experience that working in a low-income area is hard. It's much more difficult than working in a higher income area. The easy way out is to quit. To go to a school where the kids don't cuss you out for bumping into them in the hallway, where there aren't metal detectors at the door, and where most of the kids speak English. Teachers that stay in those low-income areas are generally speaking extremely dedicated, and incredibly invested in the success of their students. The stories I hear break my heart on a regular basis. I have multiple students that have spent time in jail, and I only teach sophomores. When there is a news story about a drive-by shooting or a gang murder, I know that the chances are better than good that one of my kids knows the people involved or was personally involved themselves. These are my kids. I teach here because I want to, and not because I'm lazy.

In her article, Kathy Saxon is talking specifically about merit pay, but I feel that it applies to so many topics in education. I can't directly quote her since I don't have her permission, but I would strongly encourage you to read the article. It is short but extremely well written and perfectly sums up why so many teachers are resistant to the programs being proposed at the federal level.

Go here to read the article


The Reflective Educator said...

Thank you! Exactly. There are few things that have made me more angry in the last month than the Central Falls BS. One of those things is that our education secretary and president have both mentioned that this is what quality education reform is about. What a joke.

Kirsten said...

I just stumbled on your blog. I am a mother of five and grew up with both parents in education overseas (my dad was a HS principal and my mom was a HS English teacher) My kids range in age from 12 to 1 and my five year old daughter has Down syndrome.
I just want to say that I totally hear what you are saying - and I read the article and applaud her perspective as well. My kids have had teachers across the board for ability and involvement in their lives but if my kids are not living up to their potential - whether it is my 5th and 6th grade accelerated learners or my child in sepcial ed - it is first and foremost MY responsibility!! I am truly, truly thankful for the teachers that have picked up my slack when my husband was overseas most of three years, and when my youngest two were dealing with health issues - but that is life and the teachers that supported me did it because - like you they wanted to see my children succeed!! And those years we have had teachers that weren't so great - well what a great opportunity to teach my children to be resilient - to take responsibility for themselves. It always blows me away when I hear about illiteracy rates and how they are all blamed on students slipping through the cracks. Ummm - aren't those son and daughters who have slipped through the cracks? Yes, there are exceptions but if my kid has manages to fake it to HS without being able to read - I have been the consistent teacher in his life I think I should have noticed - not blamed the school!!!
Anyway - sorry to ramble on your chalkboard :) You are clearly a dedicated teacher and I truly hope that you are given the encouragement and support you deserve to keep reaching the students you do!!