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Teacher of the Year: “I quit”

Even the best teachers get tired of teaching.  The job is taxing enough of its own, but add systemic instability, top-down meddling, and less than stellar administration and you have the grease that speeds teachers toward the exit. In this post republished from Tom Rademacher, an English teacher in Minneapolis, MN., he shares what has pushed him to the end of a successful teaching career.

In May of 2014 Tom was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing and writes about teaching at Mr. Rad’s Neighborhood.

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tomrad-e1420643401199-200x300Every year, somewhere around this time, I decide to quit teaching.  I get exhausted with teaching, with the adults I work with, with the kids who always need everything to be a thing.  I get exhausted by the gap between what we ask teachers to do and what we give them to do it with.  I get tired in the way that makes me want to cry without reason.

Most years, the decision to quit teaching is an empty threat.  There is not a long line of non-education suitors interested in someone who can make Shakespeare interesting and who would like to spend their day just, you know, helping people and changing stuff.

This year, the threat is more real.  My school is shifting districts (long story) and staying in my same room teaching my same kids means making less money than I would have (longer story), and less than other districts are offering.  There’s also this piece where I’ve been spending a lot of time this year writing for and talking with a bunch of adults and there’s a few different people interested in having me do that full time in some way.

So, I’ve been waking up early just to have some time in my classroom with a cup of coffee to sit and think.  I’ve been staying late just to sit at my desk and pretend I’m reading something.  I’ve been standing back and staring in the distance.  I’ve been holding my head in my hands in meetings a lot.  I’ve not been sleeping well.

A week ago, I quit teaching.

I decided I would find myself a job where I could do the work I do outside of work at work.  I would write, study schools and culture, try to understand, support, and fight for the decolonization of classrooms and the progression of teachers.  There’s work there that I think is important, and work that I think I would be good at.  Also, if someone would have offered me a cabin in the woods to sit and write stories and essays that were increasingly out of touch with reality, I would have taken that in a second.

I didn’t really tell anyone I quit, but my mind was made up.

But then there was this week.  Two things happened.

One morning, I woke up to pictures on my feed of new teachers, part of the Young Teachers Collective, who were posting pictures about why they teach (check out #whyteach).  One of the pictures was of a brilliant science teacher from California (@AliciaJohal, go follow her, she’s got all sorts of smart) that I met at the NEA convention in Denver last year who impressed me then with her passion for teaching, the scope of her understanding of the education world, and the way she was stepping up as a leader in so many ways when so many people tell her she needs to wait.  She teaches to give students a voice.  Something about seeing that picture, about knowing that teacher already, started this shift in my brain.  Teaching is important.  Teaching is incalculably important, and good, and powerful.  Teachers are astounding, and I want to be around them.

Then, on Wednesday, I was reading an article with my class (From Lynching Photos to Michael Brown’s Body, Commodifying Black Death), and at the end of the day one of my students took over.  For twenty minutes, this student spoke truth about being a black male, about the fear and assumptions he feels increasingly as he gets older, about his passions to succeed, to “live greatness,” and how often he is made to feel like shit, and how often he is told he isn’t shit.  He spoke with anger, with pride, with intelligence and hope, and with a broad perspective and understanding of our world that was, after a decade of teaching, among the most impressive things I’ve ever heard.

After the hour, I sat in silence with my student teacher, and after he left, sat in more silence by myself.  One of the most powerful experiences as a teacher is to be really taught.  No book, no training, no group has pushed me to grow more than my students have, nothing has come close to the sense of awe, the inspiration, and the energy they give me.  Students are incredible, and I want to be with them, I want to be there when they do amazing things.

So, I’m staying.  I’m starting over again, ready to learn and excited to teach.

I’m not staying because my kids need me.  I’m not staying to save anyone. Anyone who thinks they need to save black kids doesn’t know enough black kids.

I’m staying for the honor of being there as they live greatness, for the honor of being with them, for the honor of supporting when they need it and getting out of the way when they don’t.

I’m not staying so I can mentor these poor new teachers.  I’m staying so I can watch them change schools for better, so I can see what great things the generation of teachers not raised on color-blindness can do when they have classrooms, departments, schools all their own.

I’m so tired and so full of energy.  I am frustrated and inspired.  When I stop teaching, I want it to be for the work, and not because I’m ready to quit.  I’m a teacher, and that is why I teach.

Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud

My friends at NOPE need to broaden their scope of fraud reveals.

My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools.

I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public systems. Yet, their myopic focus on a small subset of public schools, in this case charters, is suspicious.

Why not expose all fraud, especially in the bigger system?

Well, you’ll have to ask them. They’ve mostly blocked me on twitter for asking such questions.

I guess their unionist funders and the privileged parents they cater to in America’s suburban hoarding schools want a clean message. Traditional schools with union teachers that work with privileged parents to rig the system in favor of white, middle-class, pampered children, well, that’s good.

Schools built for, by, or in favor of children so unfortunate as not to have suburban, white, progressive, college-educated families capable of obtaining mortgages for houses near the best hoarding schools, well, you know the drill, they must be stopped.

Thus, the campaign to turn public opinion against the most popular competitor to sputtering state-run schools that employ more people than they educate, and drown in so much pension debt that they can ill-afford parents choosing anything other than district failure farms.

In the interest of truth I should tell you that fraud in public education is indeed every bit the problem that NOPE says it is, but it’s much broader than they admit.

I’ve offered examples before, but here’s another from today’s reading list. In this article on lax oversight of millions of dollars of expenditures in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.


And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.


“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.


Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.


The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.


And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.

But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.


And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.

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Fuller to charter advocates: You’re in a fight, don’t run home to Mama!

Dr. Howard Fuller has been on the vanguard of the fight for educational options, and today he has a message for education advocates: fight for your lives!

Charter schools came to the education game as a bipartisan plan to force a “bold departure” from the failure trap that caught too many students in traditional public schools.

Creating alternatives to assigned district schools for families that wanted them was picking a fight with the educational establishment that lives or dies on the student headcount that drives per pupil revenue. Now, after years of losing market share, the empire is striking back with organized moves to establish moratoriums on charter growth, forge attacks on the the integrity of charter supporters, and calcifying public narratives about the supposed negative impacts of charters on public education.

So what do reform advocates do when the opponent finally hits back (hard) and our cherished reforms take a public whooping like they stole something?

According to lifelong freedom fighter Dr. Howard Fuller we firm our spines and fight like we mean it. That’s what he told attendees at a recent conference for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

“You can’t go running home to your mama,” he says. “There are people out there who don’t care that you all have created good schools. They don’t care that you are going to teach computer science. They don’t care.”

His message comes at a time when weary charter school supporters are feeling drained from constant attacks, and many are vacillating between wanting to stand their ground and wanting to accommodate anti-charter organizers by finding fleeting common ground.

“They want you to not exist,” Fuller said of the organized opponents of charter schools.

See his powerful speech below.

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It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education

The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.

I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.

In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.

Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.

Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.

“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.

Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:

People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.

If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?

Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”

Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.

During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.

Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”

Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:

…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.

Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically,  the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?

Again, only she can say.

In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.

Why?

In supporting Pataki’s push she said:

It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.

Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?

Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.

Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:

Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.

If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.

But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.

Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.

 

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