There are concerns that teachers are not from the communities in which they teach, particularly in urban areas, where differences in race and social class between teachers and students are magnified. Housing costs are often named as a culprit. One solution to this problem has been to build new “teacher villages.” These are typically lower cost residential apartment units built around or near charter schools, available to teachers working at these schools. One is now being considered for Washington, DC, to be built from funds provided specifically for charter school growth.

At first, I can appreciate this as an innovative strategy to revitalize neighborhood schools. But then you find that these villages are not typically available around traditional public schools, so this is clearly one way to attract more growth for the charter sector. Nevertheless, I can see teacher villages as a way to redevelop blighted communities, to provide convenience for teachers so they don’t have to commute long distances, and encourage educators to interact with the communities they serve. Given that teacher salaries are relatively low in most communities, lower cost housing diminishes one burden that is foisted on those who choose to teach.

When I think about this more deeply, I start to realize that teacher villages are a less than ideal solution. I have some questions:

  • Who is paying for this subsidized housing? Is this truly low-cost housing or is this actually a form of deferred compensation, which doesn’t really make this a deal for teachers after all?
  • Does lower cost apartment living actually serve as a form of bias against more veteran educators? I can imagine that these villages would be suitable for recent graduates in their early to mid-20s and not necessarily for “older” teachers, potentially with families.
  • Particularly in urban areas, why the association with charter schools? Additionally, if we were to map out potential teacher villages, are they most visible in low-income communities of color? With that, is this just another form of gentrification?
  • Will a teacher’s living conditions, or conduct in their private home, have any bearing on their employment?

The whole concept of teacher villages also reminds me of the early history of public schooling, when the profession of teaching didn’t really exist. Scores of young women, unable to find alternative work, were exploited to teach, so to speak, and bound by strict rules and codes of conduct. There is historical record of teacher villages in the mid to late 19th century, into the 20th century as well. Have you heard of the Boarding Round?

In the latter half of the 1800s, local communities designed schools to provide basic academic skills and moral education for children. Teacher compensation consisted primarily of room and board provided by the local community. The “Boarding Round” pay system was a strong incentive for teachers to maintain positive relations with community members and to maintain a high moral character. It also reflected the barter economy of the time.

This sounds almost exactly the same as the contemporary motive for teacher villages. To value teachers as professionals, there should be some respect for the individual to live where they want to live, to freely move about as they see fit. The motives of the community must not necessarily supersede the individual liberties of the teacher. Teachers, as they were in the past, are not owned by the company. They are not owned by the community. This may have been a convenient development for the early days of schooling, when teachers were young, educated women with very little in terms of actual rights or autonomy. They were so desperate to receive an education and leave their small towns to find work, despite very limited employment options.

Teachers still tend to be overwhelmingly white, middle-class women. Teaching is still written as a profession most suitable to women. It makes sense that traditional codes of sex and gender still permeate teaching and education. While the intentions might be noble, I think the whole concept of teacher villages still ascribes to a very traditional and restrictive view of teaching as a profession.

In the last couple of years, I’ve been hearing more and more about “restorative justice” as an alternative philosophy to punitive discipline in schools. I have to do more of my own research on the topic, especially since a lot of folks speak the term without really having a firm grasp of the concept.

A few things. Like a lot of concepts or models, there are likely numerous different ways to implement restorative justice, so choosing an appropriate model or package will be important. Additionally, not going about this in a haphazard way will be essential for restorative models to function properly. There are numerous new structures that have to be put in place, new committees and/or student groups, and a new vocabulary through which teachers need to speak about matters of behavior in the schools.

Another matter is suspicion. Teachers should be rightly skeptical when any new program comes along and is therefore mandated. Everything comes with a mandate it seems. Nevertheless, there is an appreciable effort to keep suspension numbers down, or which I agree. Keeping suspension numbers down, however, cannot happen in isolation. It must be replaced with something. Replacing with restorative justice sounds great, but teachers and school leaders need to make sure that these efforts are followed through. Simply keeping suspension numbers down, or not suspending at all, is never important unless some other system is put in place. All it does is tell students, and teachers, that consequences do not exist.

Finally, what happens in non-diverse schools? Part of restorative justice is identifying unjust patterns in discipline. Who gets suspended most often? In relatively diverse schools, we read that students of color are most likely suspended. What about schools that are 100% students of color? Even in those schools, there must still be work to identify unjust patterns of discipline or suspension. Could it be students with special needs, or boys, perhaps?

I do, however, have some concern that there is, yet again, emphasis on the plight of “boys,” and now even boys of color. Boys are always in crisis. Boys have been in crisis since, hell, the 19th century. Just look up “boys crisis.” Yet, I think we should also make sure that we have the same concern for girls, and girls of color. Girls and young women are also populating our prisons, and I see plenty of girls get suspended for fighting, without adequate support for their needs. Justice programs must also include the same concern for girls and young women.   

I attended a talk last week sponsored by the Washington Teachers Union. The invited speaker was Enid Lee, who was also an editor of Beyond Heroes and Holidays. At some point during the conversation, I was inspired to comment on social media:

A few conservative folks “favorited” this tweet, thinking I had a problem with multiculturalism. That’s not what I meant, and I was encouraged to explain my thinking. Over the years, there’s been some criticism of an inadequate approach to multicultural education. That is, teaching diversity as an additive approach with themed months or weeks, emphasizing individuals, heroes, and special holidays, which is what Enid Lee’s book counters.

Teachers across the country still ascribe to this “soft” approach to multiculturalism. Many of those same teachers feel just fine with this, that it’s totally adequate. That’s where teachers end the conversation about diversity and equality: on or around MLK Day or during Black History Month. As a result of years and years of this very noble, albeit very limited, approach, I don’t think teachers on the whole are viewed as a group of professionals that can be counted on to stand up and speak out. I say on the whole because there are some positive examples in some areas. Teachers, however, have been very complacent over many years and have not been major figures in justice movements.

When I say that teachers have ceded professional ground, I guess I meant that many teaches have comforted themselves with the soft, additive approach to teaching about social justice, and stopped well short of engaging in real action.

Again, as a whole. Can we really count on teachers to stand up for what is right? I don’t think so.

ward7map

 

We have a new desert. Not food deserts this time, but a desert of physical activity.

From the DCist:

The latest desert that District residents must contend doesn’t involve food, but instead exercise. The Active Kids, Healthy Community initiative has created maps that detail the lack of safe spaces for physical activity by ward.

The campaign defines a physical activity desert as “an urban area in which it is difficult to find a safe, affordable place to engage in physical activity.”

Predictably, communities east of the Anacostia River have the fewest options for safe, physical activity. These are the poor black and brown parts of the city. When I first started reading the article, I thought about schools. Why could they not be open to the public?

On that point:

…the current program has “a confusing system that not all the schools are using because they don’t want to go through it and all of the community groups feel like it’s a big burden with a lot of paperwork.” Plus, there’s no uniformity—every school has a different way of operating as part of it, she says.

“Every school has a different way of operating.” I wonder how on earth that could be. Could it be that we have a public system and a public charter system operating simultaneously, the latter of which operating almost like a bunch of individual schools? Thus, we have a confusing mishmash of schedules and rules. If we had a vibrant, common, community school system, then perhaps the confusion could be alleviated.

The vast majority of charter schools are also found in wards east of the River, the same wards with these deserts of physical play space. With so many charter schools opening in these wards each and every year, would it not be prudent and helpful to the communities in which they serve to open their buildings, and their hearts, to students and families so they have a safe, local place in which to convene out of school hours? If they are so concerned about poor black and brown folks, this seems like the right thing to do.

I’ve not done the research, so perhaps there schools that have already opened their doors and have options available. Fantastic. Keep going! I want to reiterate, however: if lack of physical space is a community issue, and charters are proliferating at a faster rate than traditional public schools, then this is an issue that charters must address if they are going to continue moving aggressively into wards east of the River.