Sunday, August 24, 2008

allow me to stand up for my flawed little institution

After RT3 yesterday, I was inspired to catch up on the blogs of panelists that I either had never read or only scanned briefly a long time ago.

Still trying to process a lot of this Dirty South Bureau post, especially the references to TAP and Algiers. But my brain is snotted up and it's way too early for a Sunday so pardon me if I'm incoherent and too brief.

First of all TAP and the incentive-based pay. I can't speak for the pay, as last year was my school's "practice" year with TAP. This year it really kicks in. While there are things about TAP I find annoying, my master teacher was a huge help to me. It has been hard to find help with my content (math - and now science) but when it comes to teaching more effectively and managing my kids more effectively TAP, at least for me, did a helluva lot of good. I was a crap teacher at the beginning of last year but I was lucky to have good advice. Am I a fluke? Am I being duped?

I've been feeling uncomfortable about this sort of attitude I got yesterday that bringing these new teachers in is bad and all our old, experienced teachers must be good. There will always be new teachers, a need for new blood. And, yeah, they will probably always suck in the beginning. I did. I'm still a work in progress. And I hardly want to insinuate that all the old New Orleans public school teachers who got fired were horrible and needed to go, however, in my experience with some of the "old guard" I've seen a resistance to change, a resistance to learning and continued education, that I find disturbing. When given the opportunity (multiple times) to go to conferences, expand their knowledge, participate in meaningful professional development, there were many of our more experienced teachers who resisted. They didn't care to go. I can't see passing that opportunity up.

I'm seeing experienced teachers who are opposed to the nationwide movement toward inclusion in the classroom. Special Education is something that should happen in an isolated environment as far as some people are concerned, because that's the way they've done it for decades. Because children with special needs are a hassle, a problem to be pushed aside. And I'm getting their kids and finding out how poorly socialized they are, ill-prepared to function in a classroom, and lulled into this idea that because they have been labeled "special ed" that they don't have to work to pass because they're too dumb to do what they other kids do. Because teachers don't want these kids. It's fucking appalling.

Yes, there are some long-term vets I know who I look up to as great teachers. But there are also some veteran teachers that make my skin crawl, that make me fear for the kids they teach. And it's because of those teachers that I don't have a problem with my lack of job security, my one-year contract. If I'm not doing my job well, they should damn well find somebody else who can. Because we can't afford to have mediocre teachers for our kids. We can't afford to have teachers who sit back and believe that just getting by is good enough. We have something to fucking prove and we have classrooms full of kids who have a shit future if we don't. Am I crazy to believe that teaching should be high-stakes and competitive because if its not then we're doing our kids a disservice?

I'm actually surprised that the fellow second-year teacher on the panel didn't stand up to defend his position as one of us TFA/alternative certification/fast-track smartass-kids-who-want-to-change-the-world better. I found that I spent a lot of the panel yesterday actually feeling vaguely offended (maybe I'm more conservative/neoliberal/reactionary/whatever than I know) and the more I read and the more I write the more that feeling solidifies.

I need to shower and ruminate on this some more.


JoeHill2008 said...

For the record...

I think it's a great thing that so many young teachers have come down to New Orleans to do something as important as attempt to improve education in this city. What you are doing is a noble job and that you plan to stay is even more important.

But I don't think that importing large numbers of inexperienced teachers as a fix to the system and telling them that they are here to save the city from the evil, lazy veteran teachers is a good idea. Unfortunately that's what has been in the press.

I greatly appreciate that you deal with the complexity of the situation; that there were both good and bad teachers working in the system before the storm. We need to hear from more nuanced voices like yours.

But the data is pretty clear that there is a strong correlation between more experienced teachers and higher test scores, particularly in inner-city schools. And as much as I disagree with the over-emphasis on test scores and the punishing of children and schools that don't succeed, right now they are the main way that we can measure performance with any degree of objectivity.

In surveys that I have seen, about a third of Algiers teachers liked the way Algiers implemented TAP (there is some debate if it qualifies as TAP under the national guidelines). If it worked for you, great. But, again, that certainly wasn't a consensus from the data I saw.

We desperately needed reform (and re-investment) pre-storm. But the more I see, the more highly critical I am of the kind of reform that we are getting.

Huck said...

em - You are not alone. I was there at RTIII yesterday and had a similar reaction. I'm not a teacher in the NO Public School system, but I am a parent of two children who are in the system. I was glad that Cliff was on the panel because he spoke clearly from the perspective of a parent and didn't let the activist professionals on the panel dictate completely how parents should feel about the situation. There is a lot that was said on that panel that resonates with me as a progressive who values deeply the purpose and spirit of public education; but being a progressive does not mean sacrificing children on the altar a cause at the expense of their educational experience. I will have more to write about some of my thoughts from this panel later; but I just wanted to write this comment to thank you for putting your thoughts down in a blog posting.

Leigh C. said...

My brain is fried as well. I'm just so, so glad to finally meet you and your beau, and that you came to RT!

Christian Roselund said...


Also for the record, I am the "JoeHill2008" that left the first comment. It appears that the "choose an identity" tag is more complicated that I thought, and listed my comment with an identity that I was using for underground union organizing.

My apologies for any confusion this may have caused.