Monthly Archives: July 2012

Quick Hit: Brainstorming

I just got back from my first viewing of The Dark Knight Rises (oh, believe me; there will be subsequent viewings…).  My brain is positively churning  – seething, I tell you! – with ideas and thoughts and musings.

I’ve decided that the fact that I’m not employed doesn’t in any way keep me from designing classes, and I want more than anything right now to design a class – probably a film as literature course – around the idea of the ambiguous hero.  The Nolan Batman is a fantastic foundation for this course, into which I’m planning to weave Snape (and probably Dumbledore), the Creature from Frankenstein, and Oskar Schindler (though he might be a bit tricky as he was a real person, but I think there could be some critical thinking gold to be mined there).  I’ve also got some Shakespeare characters in mind, as well as Jax from Sons of Anarchy and Raylan from Justified (though, depending on the class level, I may or may not be able to show episodes from those shows, despite the fact they’re on television).

Here’s where you come in, Dear Readers.  Who are your favorite morally ambiguous characters?  These can be from movies, literature, or television; the only requirement is that they exhibit some sort of moral stickiness – so much the better if that stickiness makes them more intriguing or attractive.

Aaaand, GO!

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Filed under analysis, critical thinking, doing my own homework, Dream Course, film as literature, lesson planning, popular culture

Things I Don’t Regret

The dust has settled, more or less, on the whole fiasco that has been my professional life these last two months.  I am coming – slowly, painfully, but certainly surely – to the conclusion that while I wouldn’t have chosen to leave CHS, it’s probably best that I did.

The information that I’m getting – piecemeal and from varied sources and almost never straight-up, but rather given in roundabout, listen-to-what-I’m-NOT-saying ways – is that I lost my job because of my relationship with Sweet Pea.  I’ve been thinking about all the things that people have said and reviewing all the things that happened, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, even knowing what the consequences were, I wouldn’t have done a single thing differently.

I was there for a kid who needed me – a kid who really, life-and-death needed me.  No one else was able, or willing, to take that kind of responsibility.  The “guidance counselor” stated at the beginning of the year, out loud and in front of witnesses, that he “doesn’t do crying kids.”  The administration put a 15 minute limit on how long we could care for distraught students; I was told that if we couldn’t get a kid back on his or her feet in 15 minutes, we were to send them home.  I’m so sorry, but I can’t be a part of an organization that claims to be focused on community – on caring for the individual and on fostering close and familial relationships – but then turns around and puts a stopwatch on a kid’s stress or anxiety.

The truth of the matter is that we didn’t have a support system in place for the kids who needed it (and Sweet Pea wasn’t the only one who needed it; not by a long shot).  Mr. Chili and I were talking the other day about how my behavior toward students might have to change in a different setting, and without even really thinking about it, I told him that as long as I trusted the people whose job it is to care for students in that way, I won’t feel like I need to do it.  I will still love my kids – I always do, whether they’re in high school or college – but I won’t feel the need to worry about them if I know someone else – someone competent – is taking care of their out-of-class needs.  I reminded Mr. Chili that I didn’t “adopt” any kids last year the way I did this year because I trusted the counselor we had then; I only started picking up kids when she left and the new guy showed up and gave the kids the very clear message that he wasn’t interested in listening to their troubles.

The truth of the matter is that I saved Sweet Pea’s life.  Literally.  The fact is that she needed me, and I was there.  If I had to lose my position because of that relationship, then so be it.  Given the choice, I’d pick the kid over the job every time.

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Filed under analysis, compassion and cooperation, critical thinking, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., Learning, out in the real world, self-analysis, success!

Quick Hit: Thanks, but No Thanks

One rejection a day is bad enough; two in a half hour is just mean.

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Nearly Wordless Wednesday: CAGS

It stands for “Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study,” and I’m going to meet with the director to see about enrolling in the Adolescent Development/Family Policy and Studies program in about half an hour.

Regardless of whether I get a job in September or not, I plan to take at least one class.  If it turns out that this program isn’t for me (though, the more I look at the offering, the more I think it is perfect for me), I’m thinking of looking into what either the History or the Language and Communication Studies departments are offering; I might like a class in the Constitution or on argumentation and logic.

I shall report back!

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Someone Else’s Words

On the Occasion of My Retirement as a Teacher in Urban America

iStock 000015878546XSmall On the Occasion of My Retirement as a Teacher in Urban AmericaRetired Teacher Speaks Out

There are a million reasons why teachers don’t stay in urban schools.

In fact, I’m sure some of you think anyone who’d do that work voluntarily ought to have her head examined. But I, and many of my colleagues, stayed for decades.

I worked in urban schools for 25 years. On Wednesday, June 13, 2012, I received my final send-off from the school district I worked for for all of those years.

And I was not unique or even remarkable—among the retirees who left with me, more than 200 had served at least 25 years, and one woman had taught for 50 years.

Over the course of my career, I knew many dedicated colleagues who kept going year after year, decade after decade. Now, though, we’re leaving.

Many of my veteran colleagues are retirement age, and few, despite a genuine love of teaching, are opting to stay a little while longer.

Some, like me, are being driven out through harassment campaigns conducted by vindictive and insecure administrators threatened by our vigilant advocacy for our students—and to save money on our salaries by hiring less-experienced teachers.

The rest, cowed by witnessing this intimidation and fearful of becoming the next target, keep their heads down, their classroom doors closed and don’t make waves while they wait out the days until they too can retire.

Meanwhile, few of the new generation of teachers have the stamina or the desire to dedicate their lives to urban schools. And why should they?

Have school facilities gotten substantially more attractive and comfortable? Have the health and safety concerns at each school finally been addressed?

Have administrators and office personnel all over the district become newly graced with warmth, professionalism and courtesy? Have teachers finally been provided with the preparation time and teaching materials necessary to do an adequate job?

Have students miraculously gone from being passive receptacles for information to active participants in their own education? Have new programs sprung up to fill the gaps for families needing help with basic survival or health concerns?

NOPE! NO SIRREE BOB! NO WAY JOSÉ! NOT A CHANCE!

Things not only aren’t BETTER, the “reforms” allegedly intended to improve education have made all of these conditions WORSE! Money that could be spent on making improvements has been diverted to tests and test preparation. Schools and teachers are being asked to do more with less. This test-driven pressure can only make the already inhumane educational climate that exists in urban schools damaging to kids and adults alike. Testing treats kids like widgets in some factory fantasy of education, where human lives—the students’ lives—are something that can be measured objectively.

Pull Quote teacher1 On the Occasion of My Retirement as a Teacher in Urban AmericaTo me, the final nail in the coffin of the unappreciated veteran educator has been caused by the enthusiasm to strip teachers of one of the only perks of the career:

JOB SECURITY

I don’t mean the kind that allows lousy or even cruel teachers to remain in the classroom; no teacher representative or union wants to defend that type of teacher. Good teachers loathe and despise bad teachers. But JOB SECURITY protects good teachers too. And kids deserve a chance to learn from those like us, the battle scarred veterans.

We are the marathoners who’ve had the chance to hone and refine our craft through years of practice—becoming ever more adept at juggling the range of management tasks a teacher must handle simultaneously—yet ready to innovate with new ways to make instruction interesting and lively.

We are the ones who’ve seen a hundred instructional fads come and go and are usually quite willing to predict, based on our previous experience with the same fad the last time it was “NEW”, why it won’t work, even though this makes us seem intractable or even Luddite.

We are the ones who understand how our kids learn and can access a huge repertoire of strategies to make learning happen. We can allow our consciences to dictate how we teach rather than using the latest fad pushed on us by the district because we have JOB SECURITY.

We are the ones who remember why that rule was established, who decided on that policy or where the last Teach for America recruit left her materials before she ran screaming for the door. We know the neighborhood and feel at home there. We see our kids for who they are, so full of potential and promise, struggling to persevere in spite of a society that sends them daily reminders of their contemptible marginalization through the not-so-soft bigotry of dirty schools, stressed-out teachers and inadequate facilities and resources.

We are the ones who stand up to those in power when their agendas and priorities leave kids out in the cold. We can fight for our kids because we have JOB SECURITY which gives us a small measure of protection if we step on toes in our quest to get our kids the conditions and materials they deserve.

We are the ones who bear the full brunt of society’s responsibility by giving these kids the courage to leave the psychological safety of their barrios and ghettos, which, regardless of the disadvantages and hardships, provide them with the security of a world they are comfortable navigating—the world where all their family and friends live.

We endeavor to introduce our students to the infinite possibilities life has to offer, and try not to get discouraged each time we see those possibilities shrink because of a mother’s death, an unwanted pregnancy, a brush with the law or, worst of all, difficulty obtaining the documentation they will need to pursue higher education.

We do all those things—and more—because we are invested in our students and their communities. We do these things out of love and hope—not for a PAYCHECK. If we can’t take these risks on behalf of our students because we don’t have JOB SECURITY, who will?

We’re not saints—we have no super human abilities—we get sick—we run out of energy—we despair of the obstacles facing our students—we complain (yes, we do) about the struggle to keep going without enough time, teaching materials or inner resources. We work under conditions that jeopardize our health and provide no creature comforts.

In spite of all this, we have given our hearts, minds and bodies to the work of educating urban kids—as Jesus would say, “the least of these”—the most powerless people in our society. We’ve been willing to slink around when faced with a pervasive attitude that sees us as damaged goods; in much the same way that career soldiers or postal workers are viewed—an attitude that assumes that we’re either masochistic freaks who use our work to atone for our sins or burn-outs who might snap at any minute.

This prejudice says that anything we might suggest regarding the policies and practices of education is self-serving.

Masochistic though we may be, we’re certainly not insane enough to think that our careers—our vocation—is ever going to be anything but fraught with dilemmas, crises and conflicts under disagreeable working conditions.

We may dream of clean new desks, shiny floors, reliable modern classroom technology, a cabinet cornucopia filled with all the supplies we’d ever need, white board markers that never mysteriously disappear the moment we put them down (that never happened with chalk).

Teachers love teachingBut the reality is that we’re JUBILANT if we get $100 for supplies we can order ourselves; we’re ECSTATIC at a comfortable chair for our desk even if there are some stains on the upholstery; we’re ELATED when the floor is washed after we’ve gotten stuck in that same sticky patch (spilled soda?) a dozen times.

We veterans understood that was the deal—we might complain but we knew why we were here. We came back day after day, year after year, decade after decade not because we loved our cushy jobs but because we loved our students. The hardships were bearable because we were able to do our jobs with some creativity and autonomy—freedoms made possible by JOB SECURITY.

Nowadays, though, teachers—especially urban teachers–are seen as unable to make any instructional decisions independently. These days scripted programs enforced by administrative fiat are de rigeur. Curriculum guides—formerly brief outlines of the course of study and the instructional objectives—have expanded exponentially in size and detail.

Assessments, established and designed by people with no connection to real classrooms and real kids, have sprung up like mushrooms. These assessments have become the measure of the district, the school, the students.

Now teachers themselves are being judged on how well OTHER PEOPLE perform on a multiple choice test. If the OTHER PEOPLE (i.e. the students) don’t perform well enough on the test, the teacher is PUBLICLY named a failure. All we need now is a shaming ceremony and a visible emblem that the teacher must wear—a scarlet FAIL, perhaps?—to make urban teaching officially the worst job in the US.

So, we’re leaving—we veteran teachers—and it’s up to you, the public, to decide whether teaching should be a sprint–2-3 years out of college, burning the candle at both ends, before leaving the profession for pastures more lucrative, more respected and more suited to creative, intelligent and caring people.

Or do kids deserve marathoners like us—committed and consistent teachers who make teaching their vocation? Because there really aren’t enough people masochistic enough to endure the thicket of thorns—professionally and personally—that teaching has become. And even fewer who can handle it for years or decades.

I used to caution students thinking about making teaching a career that it was a difficult and demanding profession. Then I would share with them the joys and rewards that come from having an important purpose in a child’s life and in improving our society.

Now, I just discourage them. It’s a no-win situation for the urban teacher of today. Enter at your own risk.

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Quick Hit: This

See if you can discern a foundational tenet of my teaching philosophy in this clip….

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Quick Hit: A Little Clarity

I live in an “employment at-will” state.  I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I know enough to understand that one of the consequences of this set up is that employers do not have a legal obligation to inform employees about the reasons why they have been let go.

I know this because I’ve asked, many times, to be given a clear and definitive answer to that question concerning the decision by administration to not renew my contract.  I need to know what I did that was bad enough to be released from service, not only for my own edification and professional development, but so that I don’t make the same mistake somewhere else.  I can’t fix what I don’t know is broken, right?  Despite my very politely worded and professional requests – in writing – no answer has been forthcoming.  I’ve had to piece together information from a bunch of different sources, and that’s never a good way to go.

I found out a little bit more of the puzzle yesterday when I spoke to someone in a position to know such things.  What I got was that I lost my job because someone else wasn’t doing his (theirs, really, because someone should have been overseeing the whole process, but that’s another post).  A situation arose that this person should have seen immediately and recognized as falling into his bailiwick, and that person should have taken steps to take control of the message.  That person should have done some educating, offered some guidance, and been available to help me determine what I could and could not do or say from the moment it became clear that this situation had the potential to seep past the edges.

That person did none of those things.  As a consequence, I’m out.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to lose a position due to someone else’s incompetence, but in this case, my misery isn’t really comforted by company.  The incompetent one still has his job and I – I love what I do and I work really damned hard to do it well – I am kicked to the proverbial curb.

I’m trying really hard not to be bitter.  Today, though?  I’m not really succeeding.

Asshole.

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