Tag Archives: michelle rhee

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.

It’s a Start

I watched with great interest this afternoon as Brian Williams moderated a teacher town hall discussion on MSNBC, a special presentation of Education Nation. With reform dialogue reaching a fever pitch lately, from Marc Zuckerberg’s donation to Newark to Michelle Rhee’s seeming impending ouster from Washington, D.C., to of course, the release of the movie Waiting for Superman, education is pretty much on the forefront of American consciousnesses like it probably never has been.

The program, which hosted 200 teachers in the audience and a rotating panel of educators from across the country, started off as a shill show, and no real dialogue commenced until about 10 or 15 minutes in.

The discussion was limited to presentations of arguments about tenure, charters, parental involvement, poverty, and other hot-button education issues. But as so many in my PLN pointed out: no one seemed willing to offer any solutions.

Perhaps the most heartening development to me about the two hour forum was the fact that we teachers finally had a public, individual voice that wasn’t coming from the union. At the very least, we may have been shown to be human beings, rather than insensitive machines collecting a paycheck and taking it to the bank every two weeks. As many in the forum pointed out, one of our major concerns as professionals is the fact that while education reform has become a topic that everyone from Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey feels they deserve a say in, it remains a topic where the most important voices – teachers’ – are withheld from the table. Today was a start, and if nothing else, we can hope our views have been, to a certain extent, been introduced to the public in a constructive way.

But there’s something that has been gnawing at me since the conclusion of the show. Never mind the failure of MSNBC to identify their panelists as charter school employees or Williams’ reticence at guiding serious discussion about the points being raised by the audience.

If our voices are to be heard, shouldn’t the people who vilify us like their life depends on it be there to rebut? Where was Arne Duncan? Joel  Klein? Mike Bloomberg? Geoff Canada? Eva Moskowitz? Gates? Zuckerberg? Winfrey? One woman questioned the absence of Diane Ravitch, as she is a vocal opponent of current reform movements. I’d argue it was more important for teachers to articulate their points for themselves, and that her attendance was far less vital than those who operate their vocal bullying at every turn.

Teachers have voices, opinions, and issues worth fighting for, and it’s exciting to know our ideals may finally galvanize in a productive way. However, I wonder: if a teacher scrapes his nails across the board, and nobody’s in the classroom to hear it, do they make a sound?