No, I’m not talking about the art, music, and PE teachers, who are, in my experience, typically referred to as teaching the “specials.” I’m not even talking about the special education teams.

I’m referring to the other “specialists,” your behavior specialists, reading specialists, intervention specialists, and even your “deans.” Staff members not attached to classrooms and the frequent instruction of students can disrupt and undermine the work of classroom teachers.

Let me reiterate: they can, not that they inevitably will.

Regular classroom teachers are caught in a bind. They do the most important work in any school. For all intents and purposes, they should be in charge and the highest paid. Without teachers, a principal is nothing, and a principal is only as good as the autonomy they offer their teachers. Caught working with students, and pretty much anchored to a classroom for the entire school day, teachers have less time, or no time at all, to participate in school-level decisions. Many decisions are made without input from teachers because of how quickly they need to be made, and how unavailable teachers are to make them.

Enter your “specialists.” Unlike classroom teachers, their job duties are more vague, ill-defined. Their time is not micro-managed. In that role, I’ve seen them become experts at looking busy, but accomplishing very little. What is crucial to their work, however, is the proximity in which they are able to work with the principal, thereby participating in decision-making that should be better left to classroom teachers. Contrary to classroom teachers, their jobs don’t require as much accountability, yet the decisions they make with the principal’s ear can impact the accountability to which classroom teachers are held.

Inasmuch as teaching is different than, say, office work, a school is still a workplace. And just like any other office, there are certain individuals who jockey for positions and favors, trying at all times to make their jobs seem more important, relevant, more interesting, and busier than they actually are, while at the same time increasing the demands on classroom teachers.

Beware the specialists.

We have to come up with solutions. Something.

Greene’s post ends thusly:

I’m a high school English teacher. I’m not wise enough to know the solution for an educational social justice solution in this country, and I’m not powerful enough to gather together all the people who could help work it all out. But I know enough to know that A) an increasing gap between rich and poor has exacerbated existing problems of social justice in our country, with those problems being reflected, expressed and sometimes amplified in our schools and that B) the charter choice system currently being foisted on many parts of the country doesn’t fix any of those problems.

To charter choice advocates: Your problem is a real problem, but your solution is not a solution. Whether you’re blinded by devotion to your ideology or your intent to make a buck or just your lack of understanding, your vision is impaired. You need to clean your glasses, take a step back, and look again.

All that I read prior to the above paragraphs I’ve read before. Perhaps not as concisely, but, like many others, I’m in a position that I’ve read and re-read these same arguments. When it comes time to define an alternative vision, we’ve been so exhausted by outrage that the handoff to potential solutions rarely takes place. I don’t think we get to do this anymore.

As my school’s union representative, I have a lot of teachers come to me with questions and concerns. My main roles are listening and empathizing. I can handle that. When teachers tell me about students who’ve physically assaulted them or tore up their rooms, response from administration tends to be, “Let us conduct more observations, establish a paper trail, collect more information.” That’s fine, probably necessary, but what can this teacher do in an hour, a day, a week, right now?

I ask Mr. Greene and others, “what can we do right now? What would your suggested alternatives look like a year or ten years from now?”

There was a time where I strongly believed that it wasn’t the responsibility of education reform opponents to envision alternatives. It was enough to provide evidence that contradicted reform, underscore improprieties and scandals, in attempts to discredit individuals and organizations affiliated with reform. I believed that, however, when I was in higher education, as a commentator about public schools. I don’t believe that now upon my return to the classroom.

In the last 2.5 years that I’ve been teaching again, highlighting the failures or inadequacies of education reform no longer cuts it. There are plenty of people out there just discovering the information that Mr. Greene and others provide. They are not as far down that path, and we must respect those that are just starting their journeys. Thus, informative, introductory pieces that critique education reform are still necessary. But once those pieces have been written, it is time for those that have advanced far down the path to begin developing alternative visions of school reform. Leave the introductions to the archives, or to those just joining us.

[I write this as I end the post here, without proposing my own vision. I’ve done this here and there over the years. Maybe later. Stuff to do.]

While so-called “priority” schools languish in Washington, DC, all from low-income black and brown neighborhoods, I am to understand that PTA/PTO/HSA organizations in more affluent areas of our nation’s capital are able to raise upwards of $500K additional funds to, for instance, hire full-time paraprofessionals in every class. A half-a-million dollars.  Are you kidding me? […]

It isn’t. Well, not exactly. It shouldn’t, at least, be framed entirely that way. A “calling” to me implies religious or spiritual significance. For teachers, are they expected to walk through hot coals, endure a thousand lashes, for the sake of the children? After all, they are flesh and blood human beings with needs, desires, […]

[Editor’s note: An early draft version was posted in error.  This has been corrected.]*Guest Post by John Loflin, Education-Community Action Team. Past and present: Eugenics, standardized tests, and politics of school reform: Hoosier connections and challenges  “If such a thing as a psycho-analysis of today’s prototypical culture were possible such an investigation    would […]