Thoughts for a Friend

An item came across the desk of Mr. Foteah yesterday in the form of an email from a teacher friend, someone with a passion that is enviable. We don’t work together, but I’ve seen the products of her hard work and love for her students (and teaching). Were I able to start my own school and hand pick my staff of passionate people I’ve met in the education field, she would be hire number one.

I had tweeted and google-plussed this article from the Washington Post, wherein the release of over 200 D.C. teachers was described, their dismissals mainly a product of Michelle Rhee’s leftover policies. Nowhere in the piece was there mention of whether these teachers were tenured.

My friend apparently got hold of this article and asked me whether these teachers were tenured “or do they no longer have tenure there?” What left a lingering sour taste in my mouth was the despondent next line: “It’s going to get to a point where I won’t want to teach anymore.” Oh boy.

You see, this dear friend of mine works in one of the most challenging settings given our current academic climate. Her students are all newcomers to the country, and, being in the upper grades, are taking tests that form much of the basis for how she is viewed as a teacher. While her principal knows she is exceptional, her scores do not reflect that. How could they? I don’t need to recycle here what we already know about standardized tests and the mockery they have made out of the profession.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit this woman’s classroom. You might walk into it the first time and be appalled by the noise level, the mess, the seeming lack of adult authority. On closer inspection, though, you’d realize that groups of students were working together, with the more English proficient students acting as go-betweens for their same-language classmates, while this teacher circulated the room, doggedly switching between English, Chinese, Spanish, ASL, and a whole host of other tongues to reach her students. Her voice remains assuredly calm, and there is obvious respect for the students from her and vice versa.

So when I find her openly wondering how much longer she can go on in the field, on one hand, I can empathize. I’m sure we all can. We are much more frequently beat down then we are built up. I’ve maintained since the start of my career that my job is for the students, but the reality is it’s not always easy to block out the other stuff. On the other hand, though, I was really saddened that she has started to feel this way. With no exception, she is the most passionate teacher I know, a true gift to education, so perfectly suited in her position. But she’s also no dummy, and knows how things are trending.

Is it possible that someone like her could be on the chopping block for those elements that are in absolutely no way under her control? It seems it is. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the time, money (or a crystal ball) to fly around the world meeting her future students before their families decide to come to the U.S. If she could, perhaps she would be inclined to teach them English, school routines, and everything else that would enable them to be more successful when they got to her. All she can do – and she does it brilliantly once they get to her – is her best.

So, my friend, if you’re out there reading this, please don’t go away. There are too many future students of yours who need to be comforted by someone who cares. There are too many who want to dance a native dance for you and their classmates. There are too many too eager to share their language with you. There are too many who don’t realize that school won’t be the horrifying experience they think, and that you’ll be there to help them transition.

Just worry about what you can control, and remember, there’s no way to judge your passion, no way to tally your belief in these students, and no way to replace you.

2 responses to “Thoughts for a Friend

  1. Matt, Your post really spoke to me because I think many of us have been in that place of perhaps what I am doing is sot enough, perhaps I cannot survive being a teacher. When friends and colleagues reach out to us like you do here, we survive and we become stronger. So you, by writing this post, are showing that there is a reason we fight to fix the flaws of the system and there is a reason we must reach out to one another.

  2. That’s my hope, Pernille. There are too many PHENOMENAL teachers, like my friend, who are becoming demoralized!!

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