I’m not going to re-hash how state and national leaders in both NEA and AFT unions have been some mix of asleep, impotent, and complicit amidst the assault from the corporate “reform” movement. I’m going to assume a certain level of prior knowledge and press on about recent matters…
My national union, NEA, actually came out in support of the Common Core recently. One more clueless, shameful act. I’ve been investigating whether or not I can pull my dues from national (and even state) while remaining a full member of my local…My state union has been feeding the fires of my ambivalence for several years, but two recent developments may constitute a last straw…
In the special election for Senate in New Jersey, NJEA was silent in Democratic primaries (vote is 8/13) despite neoliberal, pro-voucher, DFER slimeball Cory Booker leading in polls. Are we scared if we endorse against the favorite, that when he does get the nomination or gets in office we’ll be on the outs? Is being on the “ins” with him all that good anyway? Is this sort of political calculus more important than sticking to principles?
Then another knife in the back from NJEA. They released their endorsements (via NJEA PAC, which cannot used dues money) for the NJ legislature elections this fall (all of NJ’s legislature is up for re-election every two years). Among the problematic endorsements was assembly speaker Sheila Oliver (also running in the Senate primary against Booker), who could have sat on an odious pension/benefits “reform” bill in 2011 but brought to the floor for a vote. It was later revelaed that she made a deal to stay speaker if she advanced the bill, which she denies. We non-endorsed in her race that year. Short memory. Other endorsements raised eyebrows, including Teresa Ruiz (main author of the tenure “reform” law and heavily influenced by Robert Treat charter daddy and Newark North Ward poobah Steve Adubato) and Donald Norcoss (of the Norcross Camden County political machine, which is knee-deep in charterization and privatization). Ruiz may have won back NJEA with her “Gee, woops” buyer’s remorse moment. Aww shucks, thanks, Ms. Ruiz.
There are more — Tom Kean, Jr., Ray Lesniak, Sandra Cunningham, and Steve Sweeney among them — as well as a non-endorsement in a district where Declan O’Scanlon, a co-author of the 2011 pen/ben bill, is running against Allison (Tucker) Friedman, a CWA union steward endorsed by the county AFL-CIO. I know the AFL-CIO has been too moderate, and I’m not exactly clear what Friedman’s positions on education are, but explain the non-endorsement there while endorsing Oliver. Oh, I can — O’Scanoln is an entrenched incumbent who will likely win and we would not want to be on the outs when he gets re-elected. Is “revenge” from an already enemy one of our biggest problems right now?
Fortunately, there is some ire brewing among NJEA rank-and-file online. I’ll round out my commentary here by including a modified version of a Facebook comment I made addressing a member defending NJEA with the usual “you don’t know how it works from the inside” and “don’t whine, get involved” retorts. It does a decent job of saying what I’d say here to finish the post…..
i get it – i used to be very friendly w/some of our state-level Government Relations folks – i know that sometimes we are in a lesser of two evils situation, but at some point we need to draw a line – we’ve been flat-footed and on defense since christie got in – and the answer is always “get involved” and “we are a democratic organization” – i’m not sure what you or others think magically happens when people “get involved” (by the way yes i’ve been very involved for years) – there is a lot of inertia, and a lot of top-down stuff, and a lot of tepid, scared politics…and the higher up people get in NJEA after they leave the classroom, the more compromised they become…and don’t give me the DA/RA nonsense – c’mon – when was the last time those bodies passed any real progressive resolutions to change the type of thing we’re talking about now? (in the AFT version of the national assembly, Randi won re-election by friggin’ 99% and i don’t know one AFT member who likes her)…sure, some locals are better/more politicized than others… but what you’re seeing here from people is the growing disconnect between an increasingly aware (i’d say politicized, even radicalized, as we connect dots about class war, inequality, and the corporate reform movement) rank-and-file and an increasingly out-of-touch state leadership…i know the higher up you get, the more careful you have to be — we need access, we need “a seat at the table” — but at some point, you gotta grow a spine, and if the meal is poison, the seat ain’t so important anymore…at some point, you’re just negotiating the terms of your own exploitation…i get being afraid of being snubbed later if we endorse “wrong,” and i get that things are at their worst ever right now and a pendulum might swing; but at some point the transformation has to begin; we need to re-shape the legislature to one who listens — it will be long, and endorsements aren’t the only way (some real organizing besides “come to this rally and yell with a sign and feel good then go home” would help, too)… i’m not asking for us to endorse socialists who can’t win (though that would make me happy in many ways), but c’mon – at least a non-endorsement in races like Oliver’s and Ruiz’s (and some others) (remember we non-endorsed in Oliver’s race after she stabbed us in the back on pen-ben)….or growing more marie corfield’s in some of these races (they’ve been trying, but how incompetent they are at that is a topic for another day)….when they sh*t on us and we endorse them anyway, we are a joke bordering on irrelevance…and the silence in the senate primary race?? beyond shameful. we could stop booker or come close….i get it, i do – but c’mon, spade’s a spade – state leadership is dropping the ball…again…
It’s time to take our unions back.
This past school year was a rough one. Maybe my hardest/worst ever. (As one example, I started and abandoned a post in May called “How Grades Are Ruining My Job.”) And having too many irons in the fire (teaching, doc classes, union stuff, etc.) meant pretty much zero time for blogging. So here’s just a quickie to get the juices flowing…
About a year ago, I had heard professor Mark Naison using the term “badass teacher” (BAT) to describe teachers fighting back against dominant narratives and corporate/neoliberal “reform.” One friend of mine got a badass teacher t-shirt. It was a cute meme. Over the past several months, the term has been revived and turned into a “movement” of sorts — mainly organized via a national Facebook page (Badass Teachers Association, BTA) with state “chapters” popping up and establishing a similar online presence. However, this development has not been unproblematic…
Let’s leave aside tactics for now (i.e. BAT/BTA is pretty traditional “lobbying” activism — calling Arne Duncan, tweeting Bil Gates, etc.). The fundamental problem with BAT/BTA is that it refuses to distance itself from the right wing/tea party form of opposition to the Common Core and corporate reform. Admins of the Facebook page have talked of “civil debate,” “not demonizing beliefs,” and “building bridges.” It has caused heated debate among “members” of the Facebook group (I myself have participated in this debate and since left), and led to a progressive BTA off-shoot page (which has not been without its own problems).
I have a lot of respect for Mark, and I have perhaps simplified the story, but if BTA cannot clearly and emphatically denounce right-wing support, it is useless. Right wing/tea party opposition to the Common Core has included predictable memes/tropes: Obama the tyrant, states’ rights rhetoric, national curriculum seeking to teach the evils of diversity/tolerance/gay agenda/socialism…the usual crap. (You should see the “Badass Parents” page — it’s even worse than the teacher one in letting this nonsense get posted.) This is the same crowd who blames teachers and their unions for the supposed mess in education and engages in thinly veiled bigotry. I often have to remind myself to consider the activist adage “no permanent allies, no permanent enemies,” but if we do organize together and “win” (if the Common Core is dismantled), the knuckle-dragging right wing nuts will go right back to their assault on teachers, unions, and public schools (they call them “government schools”). We must act separately and not embrace their “help,” and to think otherwise is far from “badass” — it’s dumbass.
I had the pleasure, honor, and privilege of being on the national planning team for the 2013 “Free Minds, Free People” conference. For the first time, FMFP included in their activities “people’s assemblies” — long-form sessions aimed at movement building. One such assembly was about organizing a national resistance to Teach For America (TFA). Leading up to the conference, one of the session’s facilitator’s, Katie Osgood, wrote an excellent piece in the form of an open letter to new TFAers. It lays out the anti-TFA argument better than I could here (or maybe ever). It’s a must-read. [Note: News in the last few days is that some of the over 2000 teachers laid off by Chicago public schols will be replaced by TFAers.] Justin Fong the internal communications director for TFA, posted his open letter to the FMFP community, calling for dialogue and working together. I considered writing a post that was pretty much a point-by-point response to that letter, but I’ll let you read it and do that yourself, I do, however, want to address one of its main points.
From the little I know about him, I believe Fong is among the “better,” more progressive folks in TFA and has good intentions. But Fong begins with the premise, “Teach For America isn’t going away anytime soon, so work with us to make the organization better.” This statement is problematic for several reasons. First, to me, it sounds kind of (perhaps unintentionally) arrogant, hostile, and presumptuous. We’re not going anywhere, so deal with it. Not that TFA is as bad, but would we take that from the KKK? The Tea Party? Bankers? Just accept it? This is connected to the second problem — it already narrows the debate from the start; a false framing. I understand Fong uses the qualifier “soon,” and that he’s right in saying I’m not going to wake up tomorrow and see TFA magically gone, and that he later says he wants there to be day when TFA isn’t “necessary,” but my aim is to see TFA gone — so this presupposition of its entrenchment, while presently accurate, leaves the disbanding of TFA in the relatively near future off the table from the start. Fong essentially says – “Let’s talk, but within these parameters.” [Of course it’s HIS job to make HIS organization better. Asking for help in this way kind of reminds me of the long history of people of color burdened with educating white people.]
The third problem I have with this statement — and really with the overall idea of “dialogue” — is that, like the BAT/BTA call for building bridges to the Tea Party, it assumes that just about any story has two sides and frames those of us who speak, write, and act with certainty, passion, and conviction as intolerant, stubborn, and dogmatic. They say “See – we just want to talk and have a dialogue and have a diversity of opinion. We don’t dismiss people; we’re the objective ones.” Those of you who know me well know my distaste for the use of a false notion of objectivity. (If you don’t, skim this post). Listen – I know there is a tradition of “know your enemy” empathy in activism. I know Gandhi and MLK are admired for their use of “love as a weapon.” I even appreciate the Zen-like idea of “I am you, you are me, we are everything.” But if I walk on eggshells and dialogue with someone for the sake of seeming tolerant to them and other observers, rather than approach it as, “I’m right. You’re wrong. My goal is to make you understand why,” I will, in most cases, do a disservice to me and my cause.
Yes we need to build alternatives, and yes we need people to change TFA from within while we fight to eradicate it (though that is another matter of debate — much like our comfort with grass-fed cows and cage-free hens perhaps prolongs the slaughter of animals). Those are potentially useful. But dialogue is not always necessary or generative. Some groups and ideologies are not worthy of “dialogue,” and I’m not the asshole for thinking and saying so. The truth hurts. My job is not to make the Tea Party or TFA comfortable; it’s to trouble, problematize, and oppose their philosophy and their very existence. BAT, BTA, TFA – SMH. SMDH. SMMFH.
A couple of days ago, I saw education writer Larry Ferlazzo was collecting responses to the question: “What history myths, perpetuated by textbooks, do you attempt to break down/challenge in your classroom? How do you do that?” Larry is prolific, so chances are he was done collecting them and on to the next thing by the time I got around to responding. We’ll see – I submitted mine and hope he’ll include it in any updates he makes. Either way, it’s a good opportunity to add a post here since I never have time to. My response follows below…
The first question is perhaps the easiest question to answer, by simply saying, “All of them.” But this is also a difficult series of questions because I’ve basically dedicated my entire teaching career to these sorts of endeavors — so delineating a few favorites isn’t easy.
I would imagine beginning my response with discussing challenging traditional knowledge of and reverence for Columbus. I’ve used the Rethinking Columbus sources such as the mock trial. I use Zinn’s first chapter in People’s History, and I’ve found the Columbus chapter in James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me very useful as well. Still, this type of teaching about Columbus seems less and less necessary as a corrective, and more and more accepted as mainstream. Perhaps it is my Northeast US environment, but students are less deluded about Columbus since I began teaching, and the anti-Columbus pedagogy is hardly risky or controversial anymore.
Our nation’s early history is littered with myths, and my US History 1 class has often been Bubble Bursting 101. But since I mainly teach US History 2 now, I’ll focus on a few more examples from that course/time period.
While it is not a straightforward “myth” to “debunk,” the controversy surrounding the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan is one of my favorite topics to address. Textbooks and traditional narratives do perpetuate a sort of myth about the decision — Truman wrestling with heady moral and ethical issues (if you’re lucky to see even that) and ultimately deciding on a quick way to end the war and save thousands of lives. Virtually no attention is paid to he bomb as a diplomatic tool vis a vis the Soviet Union, evidence of an impending Japanese surrender (with or without the emperor remaining as a figurehead), estimates of American causalities far lower than the oft-quoted 1 million, and other issues mitigating the simplicity or even the outright merit or morality of using the atomic bombs. The Choices program from Brown University does a pretty good job in making the issue more complex and putting students at the center of a simulated atomic bomb decision-making process. The Choices units have adaptations included, and I’ve found them easy to adapt further in the name of time constraints. Zinn’s essay “Learning from Hiroshima” (which you can find in A Power Governments Cannot Suppress) is indispensable for this topic, and the HBO film White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki tells the story from the perspectives of Japanese survivors.
This critical examination of the atomic bomb is itself in the service of a broader historiographical aim in my classes — problematizing the facile notion (the myth) of WWII as “the good war.” Early in our study, I use Paul Fussell’s The Atlantic Monthly article “The Real War: 1939-1945″ (from 1989, the fiftieth anniversary of the war’s onset). Later, we look at the treatment of African-Americans, the Double-V campaign, and WWII as a catalyst for increased civil rights agitation, as well as the Zoot Suit Riots and the Bracero Program to address the treatment of Latin@s, mainly Chican@s. I have compiled my own materials over the years, but the fairly recent film 361st tracks an African-American tank unit before, during, and after WWII, and the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibit, “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1943-1962″ has several online resources such as an online exhibition and downloadable posters. We examine Japanese internment as well, often by juxtaposing visual and textual primary sources with government propaganda films about the camps available on YouTube. Obviously, racist and untruthful propaganda posters are also good resource for WWII, as well as propaganda films from Disney and Looney Tunes. Group work activities related to Zinn’s “WWII: The Good War” (also from A Power…) and some selected quotes from various historical figures close our study of WWII. The unit often ends with a persuasive essay assignment asking students to assess the validity of labeling WW2 “the good war.”
The Great Depression and post-WWII Civil Rights Movement are opportunities to reinforce the “bottom-up” way in which history is made, challenging both the more general historiographical myth of history made by the actions of a few important and powerful people, as well as myths more specific to each period.
I like to complicate the idea of the New Deal as a neat, sufficient top-down program handed down by a beneficent government by highlighting things like the role of Francis Townsend and socialists had on Social Security, the community organizing of Rose Chernin and the Unemployed Councils, Woody Guthrie’s songs, the “Don’t buy where you can’t work” campaigns in African-American neighborhoods, or the Flint sit-down strike. I’ve found clips of The People Speak — dramatic readings of excerpts from the Zinn-Arnove collaboration Voices of A People’s History — and the accompanying text excerpts in the book version (and/or Voices) very helpful. One interesting resource, especially if we’re discussing myths perpetuated by textbooks, is the second volume of Who Built America? Working People and the Nation’s History, a two-volume “alternative” textbook form the American Social History Project. The exhaustive treatment of the 1930s in this book is phenomenal. Other resources might include Studs Terkel’s Working and Rick Ayers’ Studs Terkel’s Working: A Teaching Guide, as well as the 1930s material in Prisciilla Murolo and A.B. Chitty’s From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend.
In the spirit of “Leaders don’t make movements, movements make leaders,” I like to complicate traditional ideas of the post-WWII Civil RIghts Movement — what I half-jokingly call “the ‘Martin Luther King, Jr. is overrated’ approach to teaching civil rights.” While no one can take away from the importance of leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, too much focus on charismatic leaders can give students the impression of a largely top-down movement. Among the pitfalls related to teaching the civil rights movement is a tendency to focus too much on leaders, especially men, and not enough on the movement. The story of the civil rights movement is the story of the thousands of nameless people who took part in organizing and implementing protest actions, served as indispensable coordinators of communication, attended organizer and activist training, marched, boycotted, registered themselves and others to vote, simply went to school — all in the face of potential violence and death, a potential realized all to often. Countless resources have been helpful in shaping my teaching of the movement, but I’ll offer a few. A book called Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching has a wealth of ideas for re-orienting teachers’ and students’ perspectives. Films such as The Children’s March and Freedom On My Mind offer invaluable insight into regular people’s contributions to civil rights turning points, as do excerpts from various episodes of Eyes on the Prize. I’ve also used primary source materials from SNCC, an organization that embodied the younger, grassroots organizing I’m discussing, and whose members were sometimes critical of King and SCLC’s more top-down, moderate approach. (Of course, all this doesn’t even include challenging the myth of King as a safe, race-only leader. Textbooks seem to ignore the sharpening of his rhetoric later in life, including critiques of the Vietnam War and almost socialist economic views.) Ella Baker famously said, “My theory is – strong people don’t need strong leaders.” historicizing the contributions of ordinary people in the civil rights movement teaches students important lessons about not only that era, but also how history is made.
Those are just a few of the myths and misconceptions I’ve enjoyed challenging in my classroom. I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on them, since, as a social justice educator, they are a big part of why I teach.
Last year, in an effort to “revive” my blogging, I wrote a “re-boot” post helping define my beliefs and practices as a teacher in a time when (for reasons I won’t get into here and now) it was fitting and appropriate to assert it.
This year (even though I didn’t blog as much as I wanted to this past summer) I’ve decided a back-to-school post will be an annual activity, no matter how frequently I’ve blogged in the preceding year.
As is the case in a life in education, the context in which I found myself beginning to write this as summer waned is complex, hopeful, difficult, dynamic, and stimulating. My goal in this post is to discuss the following two ideas: 1. This fight we’re in against the global education “reform” movement (GERM) is going to be a long one, where things may get worse before they get better. Indeed, it has been argued the fight has almost always been there — good people in education have long been fighting the encroachment of nefarious people, ideas, and forces. And some folks say there won’t be an end to the fight — that we will never be able to fully “win” and sigh in relief, and must be ever vigilant; AND 2. I’m not sure I’m going to be in it for that long haul.
I sometimes stop to ask myself how much of the unease and doubt I feel comes from A. the fact that I’m generally analytical, reflective, meta-cognitive, passionate, and slightly perfectionist/workaholic, and B. partially because of that, every six months or so, I ask myself “Do I still want to teach? Do I still want to teach high school?” There is no doubt, however, even from just talking to other educators (so that I know I’m not nuts), there is a great deal of validity to my feelings — the “reformers” are moving fast, have power and money behind them, and are generally winning the messaging battle.
This summer alone, “reformers” in New Jersey (where I live and teach) have moved quickly and taken significant steps. Over vociferous opposition, the legislature fully confirmed then acting education commissioner Chris Cerf. That legislature also passed, and Governor Christie signed, a tenure “reform” law. My state union, NJEA, trapped in flat-footed reactionary pragmatism (to my great consternation) claimed “victory,” largely due to anti-seniority provisions being removed from the bill. While NJEA spun defeat into victory and lauded the collaboration among stakeholders in crafting the legislation, Cerf turned around and called seniority “morally indefensible,” setting up the next target. Cerf is moving forward with other “reforms” he and Christie have cooked up, largely tied to the state’s NCLB waiver (Gee, thanks Obama-Duncan). He approved more charter schools for urban student guinea pigs, while continuing to refrain from such experimentation in suburban areas where more affluent parents protested. After getting approval from Big Daddy Broad before discussing it with anyone else, Cerf pushed forward with various “turnaround” efforts. The state has identified “focus” and “priority” schools and is implementing classic GERM/corporatist turnaround processes there. Overseeing the improvement in these schools will be seven still-mysterious Regional Achievement Centers (RACs), which are redundant with and/or usurping power from, county education boards and county superintendents. So little was known about the RACs, the legislature withheld funding for them in this year’s state budget, citing a lack of information, but Cerf of course pushed forward with them anyway. Cerf also seems to be floating the idea of an “achievement district” of existing state-controlled local schools plus ones who fail to improve quickly enough (and also fall under state control), with the New Orleans schools debacle serving as a model(!).
Intimately tied to the new tenure process, and to the assessment of improving focus and priority schools, will be new teacher evaluation models, entering their second and final year of piloting, with full statewide implementation set for 2013-2014. Predictably, these evaluations will include a significant portion based on “student performance” including (and perhaps soon solely based on) test scores. In districts where these models are already being used (including SIG schools, now part of the “Priority” schools), we’re hearing about pre-tests, test-drilling, and post-tests, including in the arts(!). Yes, bubble tests on sculpture.
And of course, using the Urban Hope Act (blech) as his latest lubricant, Camden County political boss Gordon Norcross is using charters and school “reform” to expand his empire — and he’s a “Democrat” (as is state Senate leader Steve Sweeney, also no friend to educators).
The national picture is no better. “Reformers” in many states are as bad or worse — as far along or further ahead. Few national politicians and media figures understand education like we do, and many have drunk the “reform” kool-aid. And of course, neither major party presidential candidate is a friend to public education, with Obama’s RTTT and related policies abysmal, and Romney’s education vision even worse.
One very tangible part of GERM and the neoliberal economic forces at work around the world has been budget cuts in the public sector, especially public education. We feel this every day in the trenches. Deteriorating physical plant. Lack of resources and technology. Swelling class sizes due to understaffing. These conditions are sometimes they way activists like myself can get our foot in the door with politicizing colleagues, showing them how these everyday frustrations are “political” because they are the results of political forces and decisions made by non-educators. This year, I teach in five different rooms. Only one has a resident projector. Some periods, there are more class sections than rooms at my school. Aside from a class of 15 students I teach in a new specialized program, the smallest of my four other classes is 27. Real, effective education (and proper attention to my class of 15) is impossible in these conditions.
All of this, from the global to the local, is going to get worse before it gets better. I believe that to be true. I tell it to fellow NJTAGers and other activists. I tell it to colleagues and allies. The “reformers” have the power/leverage of the state, have the money behind them, and are winning the media/messaging battle. No doubt there are various encouraging signs of resistance, mobilization, and implementation of alternative visions for change. But we can’t kid ourselves. More damage will be done before we are victorious. That doesn’t keep me from fighting, and it doesn’t keep me from encouraging others to do so. If you are going to see this through, you have to be in for the long haul.
The problem for me is I don’t know if I am. (And I’m not sure just getting more exercise/yoga, hydration, and sleep will fix things.)
I’ve just started my 11th year in teaching (high school history, in case you don’t know or don’t remember). I work closely with a person who is retiring half-way through the school year, after what will be 39 1/2 years teaching. He has said, and I agree, that there really won’t be any more teachers who make it that long. Clearly, many people who are close to that milestone will make it; but very few — if any — teachers at my experience level (let alone less experienced ones) will. Data on teacher turnover, burnout, and average career span aside (i.e. things are even worse than is shown by such data) several factors, several broad forces, are increasing in intensity, making the difficulty of longevity more manifest.
Students. First off, I love them. I’m among the teachers who most respect and honor student voice, empathize with them, and allow for their input into important decisions about the class. But each year, they come to me with less and less developed reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. Each year, they come to me with shorter attention spans and greater apathy. Trapped in the college admissions racket, they grade grub more than ever, and increasingly focus on results/grades more than process/learning. To be sure, there are exceptions. To be sure, there are educators who remind us that people have been complaining about “kids these days” as far back as Socrates (and further). But the stressors generated by the change in students is discernible and accelerating. This can shorten a career.
Administrators. I’m not one of those people, despite my reputation among a small number of colleagues, that is contrarian and oppositional just for the sake of it, critiquing every sneeze and fart of the administrators. I also empathize with them about being overworked like we are. Also, too much of their time is taken up by non-educational duties. However, unless you are astoundingly lucky, there will be decisions administrators make and actions they take which will confound you, frustrate you, perplex you, and can have serious ripple effects on your practice. As schools become more corporate, and the standards/testing juggernaut of the “reformers” eats away at public education, the stressors generated by our bosses seem to be increasing, and accelerating. This can shorten a career.
Colleagues. No one is more pro-teacher than I am. No one is more pro-union (in theory, not in the practices by our current tepid unions) and pro-worker than I am. Despite being a union dissident of sorts, I take the time to be a building rep because I want to be there for my people. However, let’s face it — some of our co-workers can disappoint us. As I mentioned earlier, I am abnormally (some might say pathologically) passionate and dedicated. I eat, sleep, and breathe education. One of the (many, many) reasons I’m never having kids is because I always want to be able to put as much time and effort into education that I want to at any given time. But I’m not asking my co-workers to be like me. I’m simply asking for, among those who are not already there, to just stake a few steps closer to that. The aversion to new learning and innovation I see among colleagues of all ages and experience levels is disheartening. While I empathize with the in-school and out-of-school factors that generate this attitude toward always refining our craft, toward formal or informal PD, toward using summers to get better, I can’t agree with it and it needs to change. It’s one of the things I hope to address during my upcoming doctoral studies. Furthermore, and connected in many ways by the alienation and apathy generated by the system, there is not enough of a culture of reflection, discussion, accountability, constructive criticism, and collaboration among teachers. Some of that is structural, some of that is, as I said, derived from negative feelings the system creates, but some of it is personal, and it is curable. Precisely when our profession needs us the most, precisely when we need to counter anti-teacher narratives and demonstrate the feasibility of the real reforms we’ve been advocating for years, we are not meeting the challenge. So the stressors generated by colleagues (whether their “fault” or not) seem to be increasing. This can shorten a career.
And then there’s the political climate I referred to earlier.
With these four broad forces taken together, the cumulative stress a teacher may have felt over 20 years is being reached in 15? 12? 10?
A realistic assessment of the political and social climate suggests, as I said, that absent an unexpected acceleration of certain other forces, victory for real reform will be long in arriving, yet it is becoming increasingly difficult to stay and fight for such a long time.
Now the polyannasphere of pathological positivity among some of the education Twitterati would respond with the old “…things you can’t control” and “Just focus on the kids” or “The kids and their spirit will get you through it.” Let’s be real. I certainly understand my devotion to the students and the lack of control I have over many things, but c’mon — sticking my head in the sand (or somewhere else) and ignoring the real threat of reform politics and the antics of co-workers, bosses, and students can only make things worse.
One heartening truth is that there is more than one way to “stay in the fight.” I don’t necessarily have to be a classroom teacher for the next 30 years to be part of this struggle to save and transform public education and teaching. I know several other good options. It’s just that a few years ago, I could never see myself doing anything else.
That is no longer true.