Band-aids

Here’s something that really grinds. my. gears:

As a disillusioned, passionate, and infuriated former teacher I am interested in studying teacher turnover.  Teachers and leaders kept telling me, “It’ll get easier as you go along, by year five you’ll be planning lessons in your sleep.”  I’m not trying to crush anyone’s dreams, but that’s just simply not true.  Every day is a battle.  A battle against school reform, a battle against oppressive systems that make your students angry, a battle against curriculum maps and what you’re ‘supposed’ to be teaching on the day that kids come to school crying because another black male was shot by a white police officer.  It doesn’t get easier.  All I was thinking at the beginning of year five was, “How the hell am I supposed to do this job for the rest of my life.  I’m exhausted.  This isn’t sustainable.  I can’t be a saint forever.”

So here’s where my problem with this little video comes in.  Up until about 1:30, the video is completely accurate, citing the affects of 30-40% turnover of teachers in their first five years on students and schools.  The authors state that job satisfaction is at an all time low, unreasonable demands from high-stakes testing and accountability put stress on teachers, lack of inclusive leadership leaves them hopeless.  I agree.  All of it.  But then, enter: HOPE.  The hope these authors present is mindfulness programs, mentoring, stress relief for teachers.  This is nothing short of a band-aid.  Teachers are stressed because of things that leaders and policymakers are doing to them – so let’s teach them how to do yoga?!  Here’s a thought, why don’t we begin evaluating some of the very policies and leadership strategies that are burning out teachers and change them – with teacher input!  Its ironic that we teach kids to treat others the way they would like to be treated, but then we completely leave teachers out of decisions that affect them every day.  I’m sure teachers everywhere would appreciate the lifting of weight off their shoulders more than yet another professional development session on how they should relax when they get an “unsatisfactory” rating on their next 20-minute classroom observation.

Why I’ve been silent

I know my last post was March 2015. This is not an excuse; it’s an explanation, and a poignant lesson on speaking out, especially in these dark times we find ourselves in. Now, I may have gotten busy after my trip to the Freedom Writer’s symposium in Washington D.C., which was nothing short of amazing, by the way; I was finishing up my master’s work, a principal internship, and moving halfway across the country to join the love of my life who relocated for work while I chose to stay in the Northeast completing my degree. These are all excuses to stop writing, for a short period at least, but it’s not why I stayed silent until now, and I’ve never stopped thinking about starting this blog up again. Now here’s the explanation I promised and you deserve. You see, I felt somewhat like a hypocrite. I had accepted a position as an 8th grade humanities teacher at a no excuses charter school, and I spent the past year working there, much to my own disappointment. The truth of the matter is, I needed a job, and I believe in giving kids opportunities to go to college, which they promised we would do. They were the first offer, and I was excited to get back into the classroom. I mean, how bad could it be?

Mostly, I felt like a hypocrite because I never believed in charter schools and I certainly don’t believe that they are any way to close the achievement gap, although many of them certainly claim they are doing just that. They don’t close the achievement gap because they don’t serve all kids. No, I’m not referring to the popular argument that they hand-pick their students and kick out kids that don’t “fit” their no excuses policies and procedures, I mean they don’t serve all American children. Education is supposed to be free and public. When we build charter schools, we take students and funds away from the traditional public schools, we give parents options, but parents often believe that sending their kids to a charter is the only way to give them an opportunity to go to college, and they’re devastated when they don’t win the lottery. Charter schools don’t fix the traditional public schools that are failing to give kids opportunities; they don’t serve the population, therefore contributing to even more inequality within the American educational system. I felt horrible for the students who weren’t being promised an opportunity to go to college in the schools I passed on my way into the charter school every morning (it ironically, probably purposefully, had been built across the street of a public school district’s central offices). So given this, I didn’t feel like I should be writing about closing the achievement gap while I was contributing to widening the gap. Additionally, I was scared to discuss anything in the school openly, as writing negatively about charter schools while paying my bills with money I earned from one, in a state where collective bargaining is illegal, probably wasn’t a good idea. Here’s how the story ends; I could never have prepared for how oppressive the regime in that organization was, and I quickly found myself depressed, disillusioned, and fighting for a way out.

I am happy to report that I have since been liberated from the shackles placed on me. While working there, I completed my first year in a doctoral program in educational leadership and policy studies. This year, I was awarded a fellowship and am continuing my research and coursework as a full-time student. I couldn’t be happier. I don’t plan to get into the cornucopia (hey, it’s November) of anecdotes I have about my sobering experiences working for a charter school and being a doc student in this particular post, but say stunned for lots to come. I’m sorry I stayed silent for this long, but I’m also grateful for the experience I got at the charter school, which I believe will allow me to further expose some of the inequities in our system and advocate for revolutionary change. I look forward to sharing with you again, and thank you in advance for your support of this little project.

Does Poverty Matter? Look at Scores on the Student Affluence Test (SAT)

Wealthy families often purchase SAT tutors for their students, a luxury that low-income households cannot afford.

Diane Ravitch's blog

How many times have you heard people like Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Joel Klein (remember him?) and other so-called reformers say that poverty doesn’t matter, that poverty is an excuse for poor teaching?

I have always believed that poverty imposes tremendous burdens on students and their families: hunger, homelessness, lack of medical care, illness, etc.

The best evidence of the difference that poverty makes is SAT scores. The poorest kids have the lowest scores, the most affluent have the highest. The difference from bottom to top is nearly 400 points. To be exact, it is 398 points.

The Wall Street Journal suggests a new name for the SAT: the Student Affluence Test.

What does the SAT measure? Family income and family education.

Those with vast resources of their own probably think that poverty is a personal defect rather than the inevitable result of an inequitable tax system.

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