I posted this yesterday, roughly based on my experience with “specialists” in schools. The results have been mixed in terms of opposition to the concept and the contrary, that there is some room for analysis of the work that specialists do. Let me add some details to my perspective here. And if the reader finds complete and total inaccuracy with my claims, then by all means share with me your positive experiences in the comments.
I returned to the classroom a few years ago after eight years in higher education. While in academe, I became a forceful advocate for the preservation of a free and open public system of education. During my first four years as a graduate student, I had no idea what “education reform” actually meant. Then, as an assistant professor, I started to get the idea as I observed its impacts on student teachers. I became an active participant in the conversation surrounding education reform.
Now I’m putting my formerly activist money (or lack thereof) where my mouth is, doing the most difficult work that I’ve ever done. Teaching in a low-income, high-needs, inner-city school, one that co-locates with a charter, has changed me considerably. Even though I oppose nearly every tenet of education reform, I am no longer an unabashed booster for the public system. It deserves some measure of critique. And those like myself who’ve been so focused on opposition and refusal over the years must now shift some of our energies on creating an alternative vision.
I’ve been frustrated with many aspects of the system in recent years, one of which being the exceptional levels of scrutiny heaped upon classroom teachers, who are expected to work miracles in a broken system, and in very challenged communities. As a teacher, I’m somehow expected to teach at unreasonably high levels in schools with skeleton crews, skeleton budgets. My success is then measured by test scores, or other objective data points, whose most valid assessment is of the community resources available to students, and not my performance as an educator.
As I work very hard to perform my job to the best of my ability each and every day, with great impact on my personal life and finances (since I feel the need to subsidize our school’s sh*tty budget), I do see some truth to the scrutiny that we receive. There is some room and need for accountability. I don’t know what form it will take, but there actually needs to be something.
There needs to be accountability for educators who refuse to work with children and instead hunker down in offices, spending hours and hours and hours tacking sticky notes to a data wall. We need accountability for those who refuse to show up for their posted duty schedules so teachers can “enjoy” their measly 30 minutes for lunch. We need it for the special educators who refer to some students as “retarded.” And as I’ve stated before, we need it for the teachers who refer to their students as future “murderers” and “bankrobbers.” I need some kind of guarantee that if I’m going to have to put up with the observations and the scoring and the value-added that we are ALL going to be held accountable to those same measures.
If I only sit here and share the feel good stories, and ignore the very real work that we need to do to improve our profession, then what the hell good is all this resistance? I get it. Hold off on critique until the “battle” is over. Then, we can do the work of improving ourselves once we’ve overcome our opponents. There is some very real and very important work that we as educators need to do. There are educators out there, I’ve met them, who absolutely give reasons for TFA and other reformist organizations to exist. I’m not saying they’re the majority or even a significant slice of the minority. But we have to take charge of the circumstances that we can control, and maybe it’s calling out some of our colleagues for not fulfilling their end of the bargain.