Friday, September 14, 2012

Why I'm Striking

Apparently there's a tentative contract! (update: or maybe not? My union rep tells me that they didn't have a contract to look at during their meeting but they'll meet again Sunday if a deal's reached Saturday.) The Chicago Tribune is swamped and I can't get on to see it, but as of last night, the proposed evaluation plan I saw sounds workable. (My teacher eval post is still in the works! I promise it's coming.) I explained a little bit why it's problematic to use standardized tests for more of the evaluation, but a fellow teacher recently made the point that the silver lining to this is that less of a teacher's evaluation comes from subjective sources like the principal's observation. I think that's a really good point. They are apparently going to use a combination of ISAT (and then presumably PAARC, beginning next year) and NWEA value-added scores. I am still not sure what that means for me as a third-grade teacher though. They also say teachers will be compared against other teachers with a similar demographic of students, which is good too. Also good is that first-year teachers can't be fired for an "unsatisfactory" rating (I can assure you that 90% of first-year teachers are unsatisfactory). 

I have been moved and humbled by the level of passion and urgency of people on all sides of this strike. I realized that I have at times been both too cynical (assuming that there's no money for things teachers are asking for, that their demands are pie-in-the-sky, that some of these changes are inevitable), and not cynical enough (about motives of the city or the motives of the union). I know this may sound crazy to many who are following this closely and care deeply about the issues in play, but I think I was being overly pragmatic. I have deeply appreciated the thoughts and opinions of numerous people weighing in about why they're striking, why they oppose the strike, what their hopes for the future of education are. I am humbled by their passion: I have to confess that I did not have such loftly ideals in mind at the beginning of this. I've come to realize, though, that people on both sides see this as a fight for the future of public education. I am now more supportive of the strike than I was initially, because I realize that this is an opportunity for the challenges of urban education to be visible to people in a way that they usually are not.

I believe firmly that small schools like the one I work in are not inefficient, but in fact essential in high-poverty communities. We need far more mental health services than we have. We need smaller class sizes, better nutrition programs, more enrichment, better facilities...the list goes on. And I sadly know that very little of what I see as essential is going to come to fruition, strike or not. But I feel that, if people want to talk about education reform and implement policies in the name of education reform, it is on some level disingenuous to claim to want those things, and not be willing to do what is essential to that task. Are we serious about changing education? Great! Let's do it. 

If we're serious, then let's be real: forget equality of funding. Students in high-poverty schools need MORE resources than their advantaged peers. Let's overhaul how (and how much) we fund our schools. Instead of suburban schools spending twice as much per student on education, how about we spend twice as much per student in our struggling schools? Let's spend money where it's needed. Let's spend it on the kids who still don't have internet access at home in 2012. The ones who sneak food from the cafeteria so they have something to eat at home. The ones whose parents smell like alcohol when the drop them off in the morning. The ones who scream obscenities and react like a frightened animal when people try to get close. 

Let's overhaul teacher induction: new teachers should get an apprenticeship with a master teacher in order to refine their practice while being held to a high standard, and minimizing the potential negative impact of new teachers on kids. And yes, let's dismiss teachers who aren't interested in improving their practice.

I didn't vote for this strike, but now that we're in it, I find that the reason I am striking is so that people have to think about how much of a priority public education is. If you work in education and you are against this strike, I have the utmost respect for that. If you don't work in education or in low-income communities, I invite you to come visit my school, anytime. We're at 1415 E. 70th Street in Chicago. This is not an abstract problem, and it deserves your full attention and consideration. I work with 27 brilliant, resilient, amazing people everyday who deserve the same opportunities you and I had, and more.

Update: I forgot to include my favorite revolutionary school reform soap-box: abolishing private schools! Here's an interesting article on Norwegian schools if you haven't already run across it yet.

1 comment:

Eileen Lukes said...

Oh, my. Your message brought me to tears. There is such passion and such wisdom in your words. Your students are very fortunate to have you as their teacher. I'm optimistic about the future of public education if you are an example of the teachers they're hiring.