Monday, March 08, 2010

The Pipeline

Sarah Carr's Times-Picayune article concerning the unsustainable demands on teachers in New Orleans' public schools is an example of good reporting.

Married to a 13-year veteran of the schools, Editor B posts his reaction point by point. Brutal indeed, but a fantastic read. Do yourself a favor and read his.

I'll wait.

From all the young teachers I know and the training I recieved, B's concern "These kids are too young and fresh to realize they’re being exploited," hits home the hardest.

After hearing how bad things were in the schools in 2006, I went through teachNOLA's summer institute and taught in the RSD for the 2007-2008 school year.

During training, there was an omnipresent theme of "your classroom vs. the world." Having experienced plenty of "bunker mentality" in the restaurant kitchens where I've worked, I recognized that was what they were teaching.

Bunker mentality works in the restaurant business, when you get slammed and are in the weeds for a few hours, because you know at some point, dinner service is going to end and you get to go home and stop thinking about work.

When I was teaching, the bunker mentality lasted from the first day of teacher training in June of 2007 to the last day of school in June 2008. I have a tremendous work ethic. I put up with a lot of crap. But after that year, I gave SAWB permission to break my fing legs if I ever decided to teach children again, ever.

Back to the bunker mentality, I know they have to do this, as in so many school situations that is the truth on the ground: disengaged administration, colleagues hostile to "new" teachers or outsiders. I was lucky to land in a good school situation (relatively speaking) and I know it.

But with all the energy that was going into training and institute and everything we were doing, I always wondered why there wasn't more focus on changing the system. There were an awful lot of my colleagues, new and experienced, who didn't even make it the year I did.

A lot of other teachers (new & experienced) did fantastic jobs, designing lessons, learning (or re-learning) classroom control on the go, designing best practices where there were none before, creating progress prone cultures in very difficult circumstances.

All of this and they raised test scores.

Their reward? Getting surplused at the end of the year. That's where the school system doesn't "fire" you, but says they have too many teachers and you have to apply for a new spot, teaching a different subject to different grade levels at a different school with different colleagues and a different professional culture.

And if you think that would piss you off, watch what happens when a system official tells you that the same day the system supervisor announces how happy he is that "nearly 200 new Teach for America students will be joining us to help put teachers in our classrooms."

Yup. Brutal.

Updates: Former teacher Em calls it the Vortex of Doom

G-Bitch references a completely different T-P article.

Jeffrey reminds us that this crap ain't gonna stop any time soon, no matter who we vote for.

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9 comments:

patsbrother said...

(1) On a whimsical note, I was distracted when I read Editor B's response, considering he refers to his wife the teacher as "Xy".

Xy.

That is one bizarre pseudonym for a woman.

(2) Regarding the statement, "These kids are too young and fresh to realize they're being exploited."

Speaking with some audacity, I will say you knew you were being exploited before it happened and as it was happening, just as all the other idealistic young transplants did and do.

Y'all weren't too young and fresh to realize y'all were being exploited; y'all were raised with just enough privilege and security to believe you deserved (or wanted) to be exploited. That feeling you later got was not the dawning realization that you were being exploited, it was the dawning realization that such exploitation was wrong.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

RE 2: Yes, that is some audacity. I'm tempted to slam the door very hard on you and ask if the view was good from your seat at Georgia School of Law.

I'll leave that line of thinking alone, however.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I signed up to teach because I was sold a bill of goods. That being: the schools were destroyed, not many folks were willing to teach these students, those who were teaching them needed help right now. Not in five years, but RTFN.

Then we show up, and watch the people at the top kneecap every advance not associated with a charter school. I thought they were interested in educating children and facing actual realities. I was wrong.

They were far more interested in breaking the union and balkanizing the system than they were in affecting positive change.

I would have been more than willing to keep at it if the folks in charge (of the system, not my school) had been serious about becoming a real school system.

Leigh C. said...

Ooh, someone wants to go the cynical route. Let's go for this, then: Higher education has gotten so expensive, and the costs of it keep going up and up...so when a deal like the one TfA offers - to pay off a significant chunk of your school debts after you give them your pound of flesh for three years minimum - comes along, you can bet that a large number of fresh outta college kids are going to at least consider it.

Sure, everybody has their version of hellish years in the flushes of their first jobs or careers - including those such as yourself. If I were to be truly cynical right back, I'd say that many of the crap cases and the things nobody else in the law firm wanted to touch probably got slammed onto your desk in the first few years of your employment there - but oh, no, you weren't being exploited. It was initiation. It was testing your mettle. It was seeing if you could take some of the hazing, if you considered it at its most base level. But oh, no, if you'd REALLY known what you were in for, you wouldn't have gone there, right?

And crapola. I just went there with the cynicism. Oh, such a base level to which I've stooped.

patsbrother said...

FYI. I'm an assistant public defender; as a lawyer I've only ever wanted to work in the public sector; and I interviewed for Teach For America but didn't get in. Thank you for playing, however.

And keep telling yourself someone would apply for TFA strictly for financial reasons. Show me someone who did TFA without altruisitic purposes, and I'll eat my head.

Then tell me that transplants like my brother did not already believe the system was broken, did not realize they would be overworked, did not realize they would be underpaid, and did not nevertheless go ahead and sign up for reasons other than a paycheck.

My brother and his compatriots knew full well they were going to be exploited, just as every crop of idealistic new teachers descending upon New Orleans knows they too will be exploited.

Leigh C. said...

Okay, then, let's hear it for a mass strike against TfA and like programs...Bueller?...Anyone?

*crickets chirping*

Oh, well. Nobody's emancipating themselves from mental slavery THIS week.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Bro, that last comment belies such ignorance of the situation that it is difficult to respond. I often forget how the situation appears to those who have not lived through it, or those who think there was some sort of political motivation behind individuals who are pointing at this mess and calling it a mess.

No one signs up to get exploited. Ever. I did not. I do not know anyone who did.

I DO know a lot of folks, myself included, who signed up to teach to fill a desperate need; to roll up our sleeves and work hard in a job that required a lot of us.

I was very good at what I did, and I hoped it would be my career.

I did not sign up for mission impossible, to work impossible hours and bust my ass so a bunch of lobbyists, contractors and academics would have reasons to make six-figure salaries and sit around conference tables to theorize about how to build a better charter school.

I did not sign up to pick up slack from bad teachers, who good school administrators couldn't get rid of because the system, the very folks always complaining about the unions being in the way of getting rid of slack teachers, threatened to replace any teachers a school got rid of with worse teachers already removed from other schools, if they replaced them at all.

But, no. Don't trust the folks who lived it. Please, view every experience we share with suspicion. I keep forgetting the mantra: it is the teachers' fault, it is the teachers' fault, it is the teachers' fault.

patsbrother said...

Where in the f'ing hell do I blame anything on any teachers? What suspicion are you babbling about? Are y'all really upset that I accused a class of people of altruism?

All that I've said is the unenlightening proposition that you knew the system was horribly broken, prior to becoming a teacher you complained about how badly the system was broken, and (as you've just reiterated) you joined up because you believed the system was broken and needed good people to try and fix it.

And Leigh, my point is that even with knowledge that the system is cracked, with knowledge that you will not be properly rewarded or respected, people still signed up and continue to sign up. My point is precisely that you will never have a boycott of TFA because there will always be an influx of people who join up for the precise reasons that they believe the system is cracked. The information is out there (see this blog and related posts), yet they continue to choose to come. The system can continue to eat them up and spit them out because they continue to come, despite the information being out there. Disillusionment sets in not when one realizes the system is cracked and one is being exploited (as everyone knew that already); disillusionment sets in when one realizes that the system isn't changing and that said exploitation is wrong.

Honestly, I'm having trouble finding the slur in saying someone knows the deck is stacked against them and chooses to fight the good fight anyway. Really, y'all've lost me on this one.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

You blame the teachers with your "blame the victim" syntax. This is not even code, the way you say things matters. To whit:

"I will say you knew you were being exploited before it happened and as it was happening."

Such lines of thought explicitly excuse (and are used to justify) the conditions teachers are raising concerns about. 'You knew the job was hard when you signed up for it. Everybody works hard. Be thankful you have a paycheck, shut your mouth and don't complain.'

Yes, teachers know their job is going to be difficult, even very difficult, maybe even impossibly difficult. That's the problem - it DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.

There is a difference between making sacrifices as part of a team, helping improve conditions and children's education; and making sacrifices so someone else can reap an undeserved reward while blaming you for causing the problem.

Yes, it is good that there are individuals who will work in ludicrous conditions for the sake of the children and progress. Now, let us do our part, expose why the conditions are ludicrous, and FIX THEM.

Every administrator of and teacher I know who came through teachNOLA and TFA have only the best of intentions. Just like the majority of teachers they replaced. Just like the majority of teachers who will replace them.

But none of them want those conditions to continue without end. And the first step towards solving a problem is calling it what it is.

patsbrother said...

Go back to my first (and each subsequent) comment. You will note that I called that exploitation wrong. You've concocted an assertion somewhere in my syntax, which I just can't find.

I'm writing this off as the result of bunker mentality on your part.

My comment is in direct repsonse to the statement you quoted and highlighted regarding new teachers being "too young and fresh to realize they're being exploited." Explain to me how my "syntax" someone negates the explicit assertion that, even though you knew about that exploitation going in, that such exploitation was nevertheless wrong. What you've just told me is that I said such exploitation is "not wrong." That's insane.