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On the last day of the NEA RA, I posted this status update on my Facebook page, “Fear often keeps us from speaking out. I have found that the more I speak out, the less I fear. Proud of myself at this RA!”

The RA can be a somewhat intimidating experience for a variety of reasons. For one, there are over 10,000 people in the room. For another, the use of Robert’s Rules for those not familiar with its intricacies can lead you to start questioning yourself. Finally, there are a lot of really smart people in that room. These factors combined can leave many feeling way more comfortable not appearing before the microphone and on the big screen.

This year was the fourth RA that I attended. When I heard President Van Roekel admonish educators not to throw Secretary of Education Arne Duncan under the bus, I became angry. My first immediate reaction was to try to develop a New Business Item (NBI) at the NCUEA conference that would have slammed the education policies of the Obama Administration. However, the one thing I’ve learned as a local leader is that more can be accomplished if you take the high road. 

It also became very clear to me that any attempt to criticize President Obama or Duncan during this critical election year would have been voted down or not heard at all. It occurred to me that instead of developing a NBI listing items that we as educators don’t want in education reform, why not develop one that lists what we do want?

This was my idea for the development of NBI 20. The NBI was first developed at the NCUEA. Below is the test of the NBI, along with the rationale and then my statement as delivered at the RA:

NBI 20: NEA calls for the US President and the Department of Education, in their commitment to reform education, to embrace successful models of education, such as the Finnish model and the whole child model, which emphasizes teacher driven collaboration and professional development, and to continue to move away from models of corporate/test driven reforms.

Rationale/Background: The U.S. has used a narrow range of models for education reform. We need to examine successful models of educating students worldwide. Let’s work with the Obama Administration to build great public school for all students.

My statement: I come before you speaking as a parent first and as an educator. This past year, I opted my son out of our state standardized test. It was a decision that I wish I would have made much earlier for all three of my children. I went to fourteen different schools as a Navy brat and I never remember ever being defined by a test score. We absolutely need to “put forth the best ideas and lead our profession,” as President Van Roekel stated in his opening remarks yesterday. If we believe this to be true, then we need to start leading this dialogue and providing the Obama administration with what real education reform should look like in this country. Let’s stop reacting and start doing what is right for our kids, our students, and our profession.

This NBI failed to receive a support position from the NCUEA. However, it did not deter me from introducing it at the RA. It could have also failed at the RA due to a minor mistake on my part. A delegate from Colorado came up to me prior to this NBI being heard on the floor. He wanted to add verbiage about having a values driven curriculum. When I asked him what this was about, he stated it was simply “behavior/character based curriculum.” It really did not occur to me that this was merely subterfuge in order to get the NEA to support “Christian” values.

I had accepted this as a friendly amendment on the floor of the RA to a round of groans from my good Californian colleagues. RA delegates quickly voted down this friendly amendment. Two other amendments were added, adding “whole child,” as well as deleting a specific reference to President Obama and replacing it with “U.S. President.” 

NBI 20 was adopted by the delegates at the NEA-RA 2012.

Somehow I accidentally signed Michelle Rhee’s stupid petition on Change.org. This is the e-mail letter I received from her organization today. When I went to the “StudentFirst” facebook page to post a comment, I came to discover that even after “liking” their page, you cannot post a comment outright, instead you have to comment on one of their articles (which all come from their website - also misleading).  

This is their e-mail with links removed. You can find them yourselves if you are so inclined.  

Christal,

Thank you for joining StudentsFirst by signing a petition on Change.org. I’d like to tell you a bit more about what we’re fighting for.

Every morning in America, as we send eager fourth graders off to school, ready to learn with their backpacks and lunch boxes, we are entrusting them to an education system that accepts the fact that only one in three of them can read at grade level.
 

One in three fourth graders can't read at grade level

Let me repeat that: Only one in three U.S. fourth graders can read at grade level. This is not okay.

But studies have shown that in just one year, students with an effective teacher are able to improve by one and a half grade levels. These effects are so significant that the “achievement gap” between low-income or minority students and their wealthier or white peers can effectively be erased by only three consecutive years of highly effective teachers.

It’s time we recognize the value of great teachers. At StudentsFirst, it’s our goal to make sure every child in America has a great teacher in every classroom. From improving teacher evaluations, to ending seniority-based teacher layoffs, to paying effective teachers higher salaries and bonuses, there are many ways we can elevate the teaching profession in this country to a level that reflects its importance and attracts talented individuals to join its ranks.

Help us share the message about the need for education reform by sharing the “1 in 3 fourth graders” image on Facebook:



Our supporters around the country are working hard to improve education in their local communities. Thanks to the hard work of our grassroots members, in our first year alone we improved education for 8.7 million kids. We’ll be in touch with many ways you can get involved in your local community very soon.

Thanks,

Michelle

Michelle Rhee
CEO and Founder
StudentsFirst

My response:

Dear Michelle Rhee,
Please do not count me as one of your supporters. Your attacks on public education, teachers unions and teachers across the US is nothing short of repulsive and repugnant. Millions of teachers, myself included, have long put students first and continue to put students first, even though we do not have access to the millions of dollars that your organization has. I don’t count as my friends privatizers who outright seek to dismantle public education. Instead, I count among my friends regular, middle class people who believe that a quality education comes from providing a quality educator, one is who is given the time and resources they need in order to teach their students. 

I have been in urban education for over a decade and I have taught children who are a true cross section of this great nation, kids who live in poverty to kids who live in gated communities, kids whose parents are high school dropouts, to kids whose parents have Phd’s. Kids who are Asian, Hispanic, African American, African, Filipino, and European Americans. And, not once have I ever felt the need to tape any of my students’ mouths shut with tape and brag about their lips bleeding afterwards. That story you told is one of a teacher who is a bad teacher. Perhaps that is why you rail against bad teachers because you only need look in the mirror to see what a bad teacher looks like.

Sincerely,

Christal Watts


This is the audio from Michelle Rhee bragging about taping the mouths of students close. 

It all started with this tweet:

2h TeacherReality @TeacherReality    · Open

Reading Twitter feed of @GovChristie This guy has deep hatred of teachers. Talks to them like dirt. Reminds me of @DrStevePerry

I responded with the tweet below. The fact is that according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 76% of public education teachers are women. (In private education, 72% of teachers are women).  When you look at the assault on public education, teachers, their benefits & their pensions, it is not too big of a stretch to make the assumption that those who are doing the bashing (mostly men who are in power) must be misogynistic.  Thus, this tweet ensued.

@TeacherReality @GovChristie @DrStevePerry 1 can only assume that their deep hatred of tchrs really is a deep hatred of women. #misogynists

Dr. Steve Perry @DrStevePerry    · Open

@christal_watts @TeacherReality @GovChristie #misogynists Right bc all teachers are women. Nuts. I pray that you’re really NOT a teacher.

I responded with this:

@DrStevePerry @TeacherReality The majority of teachers r women. Surprising u don’t know that. Better tchr than u could ever dream of being.

I guess stating that “praying I’m not a teacher,” is his response to a debate.

Wait, it gets better.

 Dr. Steve Perry @DrStevePerry    · Open

@jerseyjazzman @christal_watts @TeacherReality @stopthefreezeNJ #edreform Wow upper middle class certified & victims? You folks are a joke.

Now, I’m upper middle class & I’m a victim.

First off, I am middle class & holding on with my finger nails. My husband & I both know that if either one of us loses our jobs, we are just a paycheck or two away from being out of our home. That’s our reality.

@DrStevePerry @jerseyjazzman @teacherreality @stopthefreezenj hardly upper mid class unlike u. #Drsteveperryprotectingbigbizintnotkidsints

What’s so funny about this statement is that DOCTOR Steve Perry is a CNN contributor. If anyone is upper middle class, that would be DOCTOR Steve Perry. I think he needs to by himself a mirror.

He responds with this in his next twitter. Now I’m upper middle class, a victim, enjoy luxurious paid four months of vacation and I’m suburban.

Why is this man working for CNN?

2h Dr. Steve Perry @DrStevePerry    · Open

@christal_watts @jerseyjazzman @teacherreality @stopthefreezenj DAMN sure suburban. Enjoy another of your 4 months of paid days off per yr

 Christal Watts @christal_watts Close

@DrStevePerry @jerseyjazzman @teacherreality @stopthefreezenj tells how little u know about me. I guess he ASSumes this because I’m white.

Here is what is soooo very wrong this assumption by Dr. Steve Perry. My great grandparents came to the West Coast during the Depression. They were migrant farm workers for many years. They eventually were able to quit this job & my great grandfather became a logger in Oregon. During the 1960’s, my great grandparents were able  to buy a couple of logging trucks after many years of hard & dangerous work by my great grandfather.

In that same decade, one of their employees had an accident & was injured. My grandparents lost everything as a result. In 1971, my great-grandfather died. In 1973, my great grandmother lost her only child, my grandma. My grandma was 45 years old who died from a heart aneurysm. My great grandmother lived on social security until she died in the mid-1990’s.

Both of my grandmothers worked outside the home as they did not have reliable men in their lives. My dad wanted to go to college, but was denied the opportunity. Instead, he joined the US Navy, where he served his country for over two decades. He worked his way through the ranks & retired out of the Navy as a lieutenant. My mom dropped out of high school due to becoming pregnant with my older brother. In 1973, she earned her GED.

Out of all of the kids & grandkids on both sides of the immediate family, only four have gone on to receive a bachelor’s degree & of those, two have gone on to receive a master’s (of which I am one). When I’m accepted into a doctorate program, I will be the only person in my family to take this step.

18m Dr. Steve Perry @DrStevePerry  Reply  Retweeted  Favorite • Open

You MUST hear the racist undertones in the Qs of those who say we have chosen the RIGHT kids. It shields their failures & perpetuates ours.

He next responds with what everyone knows is the easiest “call-out”, the charge of being a racist. Dr.Steve Perry seems to believe that if you question him on anything, then you must be a racist. What Dr. Steve Perry was being questioned on was his attrition rate for his magnet school.Jersey Jazzman offers a nice blog post as well on this issue.

Why does attrition matter?

Well, those like Dr. Steve Perry often make the argument that our schools are failing our students and we make excuses when we look to poverty rates of our students. Dr. Steve Perry claims that 100% of his students go on to four year colleges. That is very admirable on its face, but like any such claim, a smart person will ask how many students dropped out of the program & which students were asked to leave.

As Jersey Jazzman points out in his blog post, the poverty rate of students attending Dr. Steve Perry’s school is much lower than those of surrounding schools. Furthermore, students are selected by lottery & one can assume that if a student (& their parents) does not follow the rules of the school, they are asked to leave.

I will continue to maintain that the attack on teachers & their unions has misogynistic undertones. As a white, female teacher, I take great umbrage when people use my race against me & make the claim that I’m a racist when I question their position.

The reality that we face in the United States is that the majority of teachers are female. The majority of those females are white & the majority of those female, white teachers are middle class. Until we do more to attract males and minorities to the teaching profession, we need to figure out how help those that are already here to most effectively teach all of our students.

We cannot do this by ad hominems.

I have no problem apologizing for using a pejorative term & did so by apologizing on Twitter for implying that Dr. Steve Perry is a misogynist. I wonder if he is willing to do the same.

That is the mantra that I have been trying to live by over the past few months. 

This is the mantra that I believe needs to be adopted when we talk about education “reform” as well.  Part of the failure, as I see it, in the debate has been the inability of the reformers to engage those who are teaching our students, whether they are affiliated with a union or not.

Under the current reform system, teachers are the enemy. Teachers are overwhelmingly bad and ineffective in the reform narrative.  Teachers must be held accountable to the public, which is best done through high stakes testing (not for the students, btw, who by the time the “high stakes” test has rolled around have already been subjected to months of test prep). When we assume the worst of our teachers, how can we expect them to want to do their best?

As a teacher, the expectation I have for my students when they walk through the door is that they will do their very best every single day. My standard for all of my students is that not only will they be successful academically, but by the end of the school year, they will leave as better young people, fully embracing the concept of treating everyone with dignity and respect. Instead of assuming the worst about my students, I assumed the very best and for the most part, my students lived up to those expectations.

One of the lamentations of the reformers is that teachers, especially those in tough to teach urban areas embrace a sort of “soft bigotry of low expectations.” When this is what many teachers read and hear on an almost daily basis, it would almost seem logical that some might just “live up to” this expectation that the reformers and the policy makers have set for them. Why do better when people assume the worst about you and your profession?

What if the reformers reversed the narrative? Turned it completely on its head and “assumed positive intentions” of those who stand before the students of this country? Might it not be possible that by engaging in conversations with our teachers and truly listening to them and embracing some of the ideas we have about education, we might ultimately achieve what it is that everyone says they want for our students - a quality education with a quality educator standing before them.

September 17, 2011

Dear Editor,

I want to respond to the recent article in the Times Herald, “Vallejo’s schools chronic problems discussed.” Over the past two years, I have been privileged to serve over 800 educators in the Vallejo City Unified School District. In the article I’m quoted as saying that I won’t protect bad teachers. This is a statement that I will proudly defend any time anyone wants to make the proclamation that unions protect bad teachers. However, I will state that my responsibility as leader of VEA is to protect the due process rights for every one of the teachers and other educators that I represent.

There are a couple of points that I would like to make. First, as president I have not yet been asked to represent any teacher in a hearing to remove him or her from the classroom.  When I spoke to VEA’s past president, she stated that during her over thirty years with the district, she can only recall a handful in which she had to represent someone who was up for dismissal. Is this the fault of the union?

There are ineffective employees in every large organization. This is a fact that most of us acknowledge. However, when the public states that unions protect bad teachers, I am often perplexed. My job is to represent all teachers and to defend their due process rights. It is those rights that I will defend in order to make sure that they receive a fair and impartial hearing.

Our judicial system is based on the premise of innocent until proven guilty. This is a presumption that should also hold true for any teacher who is up for dismissal. As president, I have witnessed firsthand the willingness of some administrators target teachers in a way that is neither fair nor impartial.  In fact, while a teacher may be seen as “bad” by one administrator, in a more supportive environment, that same teacher may very well shine.

This brings me to my next point. Too many are willing to point fingers at bad teachers and question why they are still teaching. In VCUSD, over the decade that I have been here, I have seen a constant erosion of our working conditions and a continuous demand for teachers to do more and more with less and less. Vallejo’s teachers continue to be at the bottom of the pay scale in Solano County and in the state. Even the best teacher when expected to run a marathon at top speed will not be able to endure and win the race.

We have lost many good teachers to surrounding districts.  Many of these teachers have reported to me that what was lacking in Vallejo has been found in their new districts. These teachers have stated that they did not understand what a good, supportive environment was until they went to their new districts. If the district cannot provide better wages, should it not at least strive to provide a better working environment, one that is supportive and collaborative?

We have many wonderful teachers in Vallejo who are often overlooked in the dialogue. These are teachers who put in long hours to make sure that their kids, their students receive a top quality education. We also know that we have many wonderfully, talented, smart and creative students who we strive to reach every single day that we step in our classrooms. Every time I walk on a high school campus and I am greeted by my former students, I am reminded of how many terrific kids I have been privileged to teach in Vallejo.

It is time that we not only start highlighting the success of our kids but the success of our teachers as well. It is also time to hold everyone accountable for the success of this school district. The success or failure of our system does not rest on the shoulders of teachers alone.

Sincerely,

Christal Watts

President, VEA

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I’ve been president of my local of just over 800 teachers for the past two years and am going into my third year. Every single year of my presidency, my district has sent out lay-off notices to over a hundred of my unit members.  These lay-off notices go out in March and final notices of lay-off are received by unit members in mid-May.  

As much as teachers and other education professionals covered by our collective bargaining agreement try not to have the specter of job-less effect them in the classroom, it goes without saying that the undercurrent of fear and uncertainty is present. And, kids pick up on this and kids ask questions. Many of them also become fearful that their teacher is not going to come back.

For many of our students, school is one of the few places in which there is some stability. Many of our kids come from home environments in which a parent is incarcerated, or they live with a grandparent (usually the grandmother), or a parent is a migrant farm worker, or their family is homeless. They come to school knowing that the adult greeting them at the door in the morning is most likely going to be there tomorrow and the next day.

Many argue that AB114 does nothing but protect teachers from losing their jobs. This is true. So, why is this a bad thing? As a parent first, I want to know that the teachers that my child starts off with at the beginning of the year is going to be there mid-year and at the end of the year. I don’t want my child dealing with a myriad of substitutes whilst trying to earn credits during his sophomore year in high school.

If being selfish means that AB114 will prevent lay-offs in the middle of the school year, then by all means, call me selfish & a union thug. However, do not claim that you care for kids and their education on the one hand, while slamming the union on the other, because AB114 provides for stability for our students and by proxy, our teachers. 

AB114 will allow the teachers I represent to rest easy until March 2012, when yet another round of pink slips may very well go out for the fourth year in a row. Those squabbling about AB114 should direct their outrage at the GOP who refused to do what the majority of Californians wanted them to do - put up for a vote extension of taxes that expired on June 30, 2011. 

Had they done what was right, there would have not been a need for AB114.

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I know, you are in the teaching life to teach, to instruct, to give to the next generation.  So am I.  But, I have come to some stark realizations lately:

1.  If you are a public school teacher, you are involved in politics right now, whether you acknowledge it or not.  Professional writers and pundits have been hired and paid handsomely to attack public school teachers and our representative organizations as their full time job.  And in case you missed it, they are attacking you, too.

2.  Even if you don’t like the idea of being involved in some sort of job collective, like being active in your union, your critics will lump you together with all other teachers anyway.  Sorry, your critics won’t let you out, no matter how much you want to be seen as that virginal, non-collective, not-dirty-with-politics, nice-smelling teacher.

3.  Critics will want you to forget that your democratically-elected union leaders at the local, and state levels have been, and in many cases still are in the classroom, teaching every day.  They will begin presumptive statements with phrases like "greedy union bosses" and hope that you forget that your “bosses” are still certified teachers, deeply committed to the profession.  For instance, the president of my local teaches AP English full-time with a huge grading load and is working on his Masters Degree while being a responsible husband and father.  Wow, what a “greedy union boss.”

4.    If your union falls apart, you will be on your own to negotiate a job or contract up against big-money interests who have teams of staff lawyers just waiting to overwhelm you if there is ever any legal action that you may bring.  Don’t believe me?  Ask any number of professionals, including doctors and nurses who work for huge hospital corporations.  Remember, school administrations operate in collective ways, also, not just teachers.  And they won’t stop even if all teachers unions go away, because it is in their best interest to act collectively.  Hmmmmm…Maybe it’s in our best interests, too.

5.  If you have any concern for the poorest of your students, you will want them to have the consistency of a good education, right?  The original purpose of public schools was to create that kind of consistency.  Those who want to dismantle public schools today want only to “open up a new market” of private schools that will come into existence, fail, over and again. Isn’t that what wide open, freewheeling business does today?  Sure it is.  And not much of anyone thinks anything of it.  Would we think something of it if a charter school collapsed and closed at an odd time and their students had no place else to go for the rest of the year.  Oh, yea.  Who stands between “market” education and consistent public ed?  The teachers unions.  That’s the whole purpose of these attacks.

The only way left for you to not be “political” is to stop being committed to public education.  So, welcome to “the collective”, like it or not.  Your critics have made sure that you are locked in.

Yup & this union boss only gets an extra $1200 per year to help cover any of my extra expenses. I’m paid on the regular step & column salary schedule based on my years of experience and my units. And, I continue to work way beyond my “contracted” 183 days and my 6.5 hour work day.

 

Moments ago, I finished watching Race to Nowhere, a movie that was recently shown in Vallejo, the district where I teach. The movie struck a chord as I noted the many similarities shown in the movie and the struggles my three children faced in their educational journeys.

My oldest child graduated from high school a few years ago. Manda started off thoroughly loving school and learning. In 6th grade, she received a very prestigious award from her school. This award went to students who were deemed by their teachers to be stellar students and citizens. We were thrilled for her and of course, more than a little bit proud.

Two years later, we would be faced with a knock at the door at midnight by two uniformed police officers. Manda had told a friend that she was planning to kill herself. Looking back on that night, I remember feeling scared and very worried for her future. We got her into counseling and soon discovered that our beautiful daughter was a cutter. This habit was something that she would turn to anytime the pressure became to great.

School for her no longer brought joy. In my conversations with her, what stands out the most was that she felt nothing but pressure to be the perfect child and student. This is something I never wanted for her, but I know that the pressure I put on myself to achieve and do well both academically and professionally more than likely was felt by all three of my kids.

My son Tyler graduated from high school this past summer. Unlike his sister, I don’t think that Tyler ever felt much joy being in school. To him, school has meant nothing but living by the rules and conformity. Tyler is by nature the type of kid that will naturally challenge you, regardless of your authority, perceived or not.

Tyler did school, but he never liked it. A trait that he shares with his older sister is creativity. Creativity is no longer valued in our school system. My two older kids never wanted to go the AP or IB route and were both made to feel by both teachers and their peers alike that perhaps there was something wrong with them. Tyler has talked about going to college, but it is not something he wants to do at this time.

For our youngest son, Clayton, this emphasis on performing well hit early in his school career, 3rd grade. As an 8-year-old, he was diagnosed with severe anxiety. (If that doesn’t shock you, I don’t know what will). Our journey through hell and back during this year of his schooling taught me a lot about the unrealistic expectations our schools put on our kids.

For him, it all began with math. His teacher told us at “Back to School” night that he had formerly taught GATE (Gifted & Talented), and that even though this class wasn’t GATE, he was going to proceed to teach these kids as if it were GATE. For this teacher, GATE meant putting unrealistic demands on 8-year-olds. For Clayton, it meant doing everything in his power not to go to school, like running away from school, throwing temper tantrums in the mornings, and other behaviors not normal for an 8-year-old. For my husband and I, it meant too many meetings to count trying to deal with an unsympathetic teacher and administrator who instead of reflecting on their own practice as educators chose to blame the victim, my son. He was quickly labeled as being “oppositionally defiant.”

Christmas that year was not one of joy. Clayton was clearly not welcome to attend our neighborhood school. This school had the highest API/AYP scores in the district. The principal told me more than once that Clayton had “embarrassed him” by his behavior in front of parents visiting the school. (Clayton spent a lot of time in the office). In my opinion, this school was more interested in maintaining their test scores than in helping my child through this difficult time.

This behavior was not normal for Clayton. Up until that year in school, he enjoyed being in school. He got a long well with his peers, the office staff enjoyed him, and the previous principal thoroughly enjoyed his sense of humor. This was a kid who had acted in two plays for our local youth theater. Severe anxiety was clearly not the norm.

Before school started up again, we made the decision to start investigating schools in the district where I teach. By February, Clayton was enrolled in a new school, something that is rather anxiety-inducing in itself. Unlike his previous school, the teachers, staff and administrators were willing to help Clayton deal with his anxiety, hold him accountable for his behavior and most important of all, help him feel safe and secure.

Unlike his previous school, their API/AYP scores weren’t all that great, but for me as a parent, that didn’t matter. I wanted my child back.

I’m happy to report that Clayton is now in 9th grade. He is well-liked by his peers, gets along well with most of his teachers, and is becoming a confident strong young man. He doesn’t like math, but he does endure it. I tell him to do the best he can.

As a parent, I’ve come to realize that it really isn’t about the test scores. My goal as their parent is to raise responsible, well-adjusted adults. My daughter, Manda, is still trying to figure out what she wants to do and has been exploring getting her cosmetology license. Tyler is doing well at his new job and is sharing an apartment with his two cousins. He is (in my unbiased opinion, of course) a very talented musician. As for Clayton, he is looking forward to competing in Las Vegas in November for a power-lifting contest as well as the start-up of wrestling season. His grades are okay.

And, I’m okay with that.

If you haven’t watched the movie, please do. We need to start having honest conversations about what is truly valued in education. We need to stop putting this pressure on our students to perform at all costs, especially when it jeopardizes their health and well-being.

(This blog post originally appeared on HuffPo on 10/27/10.)

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Have you heard about the new film that was made by the same guy that made An Inconvenient Truth? This film was recently discussed on Oprah Winfrey. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch Oprah or the movie, but I have got to tell you, the whole Superman metaphor really bugs the crap out of me.

I wasn’t exactly sure why I have been so bothered by it until it struck me. In the movies and the television series, Superman always came in at the last minute to rescue Lois Lane — thus becoming the hero until the next tragedy struck. He’d swoop in, save the victims, and leave.

It’s kind of how I feel about the so-called reformers. They will swoop and leave, just like Superman.

Y’know what? I don’t need rescuing from anyone, thank you very much.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with teachers who have taught for many years in our highly diverse school district. They’ve experienced one educational fad after the other. They’ve stuck around because they are dedicated to the students they teach, despite the low pay, the lack of professional respect, and the lack of support from the District. They continue to stick it out as attacks on them and their union by privateers, businessmen, the media, and “reform” minded Democrats have increased.

Somehow I have managed over the past decade to teach hundreds of students despite the many obstacles and challenges along the way. I’ve dealt with unsupportive administrators and parents, lack of supplies, limited support with new curriculum, five preps for four different levels of students (from far below basic to GATE), supplies and money stolen from my classroom, a leaky roof, water damaged books and the routine pulling of fire alarms.

I don’t want or need a “superman” to rescue me or to rescue the students I have taught over this past decade. For too long, I have felt like the scream figure in the famous Munch painting, screaming in a void with little to no concern from the general public to the realities that I faced every day walking through my classroom door.

What I and many of my colleagues would like is a seat at the table. Listen to those who are in the trenches. Talk to them to find out what is wrong in their classrooms, what they need in order to meet the needs of their students. I want there to be a new understanding that unions are not the problem for if they were, then students in states in which there are no unions or weak unions would be outperforming their counterparts in strong union states. I want people to understand that I don’t have tenure and a life-time guarantee of my job simply does not exist.

I want there to be more effective recruitment of teachers into administration positions. Principals who lead schools should have more than three years under their belt and should have a proven record of successful teaching and proven leadership at their school sites. It should not be for those who are simply looking to make more money.

I want to be held accountable for the things that I can control. If I am not given the latitude to teach the curriculum, add supplementals based on the needs of my students, and use my professional judgment as to what my students may need, then you cannot make the claim that I have failed my students.

I want professional development to be meaningful to me both as a professional and as an educator and not just the latest pedagogical fad that is taught by yet another high paid consultant whose only real commitment is to the all mighty dollar.

Superman can rescue someone else. Those who want to do something about the state of public education are encouraged to visit their local neighborhood schools. I would also encourage any one to talk to teachers and listen. For too long, the public discourse has sought to exclude the voices of those who are in the trenches every single day. Teachers matter and we should be allowed to have a voice in this debate.

(This blog post originally appeared on HuffPo on 10/13/10.)

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When I began teaching, there were a couple of things that struck me as being unique to education. The first was the expectation that supplies that those in the corporate world take for granted would need to be provided by me. The second is that my immediate supervisor, my boss, would rarely make an appearance in my classroom.

As long as I kept up the appearance of being able to have good control of my classroom by not writing too many referrals, it would “appear” that I was a “good” teacher.

A good teacher in my first two years of teaching.

As if that thought shouldn’t strike you as ludicrous.

My first two evaluations were rated as satisfactory. No mention of areas that I could improve upon and thus move from a good teacher to a great teacher.

This bothered me because I had come from a different world prior to becoming a teacher. I had worked for two corporations in my career before becoming a teacher. In the evaluations that I received in these positions, there were always areas that were marked in which I excelled and then areas in which there could be improvement. When my boss would go over my evaluation, we would have a good 20 to 30 minute debriefing about the evaluation.

For the most part, my evaluations were good and the conversations I would have with my boss also helped me, I would like to think, become a better employee.

So, how does this relate to teaching?

In a nutshell, many principals simply do not have the time or resources to help the teachers at their school sites become better educators. Just like teachers, they are overworked and the demands on their time too often makes it very difficult for them to help teachers, struggling or not.

It is one of the things that really drives me crazy in the current education debate. I wish that more administrators would start speaking out against the unreasonable demands on their time. I also wish that they would acknowledge that sometimes it’s easier for them to keep a struggling teacher rather than to go through the process of hiring someone new.

Yet, their voices have remained mostly silent in this debate.

Why is that?

Perhaps they fear losing their jobs if they speak out.

In my current role as the leader of my local association, I’ve come to realize that part of the power that I have is the ability to speak to school site administrators and district administrators as an equal. Therefore, when there are issues between a teacher and their principal, I don’t fear the loss of my job. This enables me to advocate for the teacher without fear of retribution.

I also know that while some principals would welcome this discourse regardless of my union protection, there are others who would not. These principals would openly welcome the dismantling of the teachers union and would have no qualms of going after those teachers that they do not see as kowtowing to their vision for their school site, no matter how right or wrong-headed that vision may be!

Furthermore, I have been allowed to have a voice at the table in my own district, although I am aware that sometimes it may not be a welcome voice. I don’t believe that many principals enjoy this same sort of freedom to speak their minds in front of their superiors. It is why it looks to so many of us in classrooms that principals have wholeheartedly embraced the testing culture, pushing for more test prep in lieu of science, history, music or P.E. As one principal stated to me, “they look at me when the test scores don’t rise.”

As districts make more and more cuts to programs and services, more demands are placed on school site administrators. My district has seen the complete elimination of middle school counselors and librarians (one librarian serving the needs of almost 15,000 students) and drastic reductions to our school nurses. Who is expected to pick up the slack? Teachers and school site administrators. So, why are we only hearing from teachers? When it comes to making tough budget decisions and crucial programs such as P.E. and music are up on the chopping block, it would be nice for a principal to speak before the Board about eliminating and/or reducing district benchmark assessments and state testing. It would also be nice to read letters to the editor with a group of principal as signers. I’ve yet to see this in Vallejo & don’t know if it is happening elsewhere.

Instead principals are silent. Perhaps they like this new status quo, where teachers are under the gun for the poor performance of students and they believe that most teachers are bad. Perhaps they want to see the complete dismantling of public education and teachers unions. Perhaps they know that being principal is just a stepping stone to becoming a district administrator or a superintendent. Or perhaps, it is all of the above.

I hope that it is NOT all of the above.

Instead, I hope that their silence is because many principals are caught between wanting to do what is right for children and their teachers and wanting to keep their jobs. They are caught in the middle in positions that are often tenuous based on the whims of district administrators and the school board. If this is the case, then I hope that they will start to collectively raise their voices and start speaking out about the new status quo, where test prep trumps real learning and where the only two subjects that matter is language arts and mathematics.

I know that I would welcome their voice to this conversation.

(This blog post originally appeared on HuffPo on 11/8/2010.)

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