Month: April 2016

The Real Estate Board and Your School

Working in community development for a Midwestern urban government, I had my innocence shattered around the illusion that the school district, as an agent of the state government, was actually operating quasi-independently of other major groups in the city.

I soon learned how the collusion of the real estate board with controlling media outlets affects schools. Here’s how it works:

People like to live in a good neighborhood. A good neighborhood is one that has a good school. People may be very content with their school. However, their home may be getting old. You can’t charge as much to live in an older home as a new one. The real estate board exists to promote the interests of the realtors. Realtors like to sell new homes.

Q: How do you get people to move out of their house often enough to sell enough new homes to keep you going at the level you want?

A: You start trash talking the school, or even the district.

By reporting on problems and not reporting on strengths, the reading and viewing public begin to question the quality of the school. The quality of the school, mind you, may not have deteriorated at all. Or any negative stories about schools in outlying areas are suppressed.

Soon homeowners with children begin to get nervous. “Perhaps we had better begin thinking about moving out to a neighborhood with better schools,” they say.

Glowing reports of the fabulous quality of the school in the developing residential area begin to flood the news. Simultaneously, trouble, trouble, trouble is publicized about the school or district designated for downgrading. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative media leads to negative parental and student perceptions leads to more hostility toward the school leads to making the job harder, you get the picture.

I have personal experience with this. I worked and lived in an urban district. I knew firsthand about the skill levels of the teachers, their dedication, the innovative and effective techniques they used, the programs the district had that offered opportunities to the students.

While it was true that students from less affluent families attended, that did not equate with those students being inferior in character, behavior, desire or skill levels. It didn’t mean the teachers didn’t care. It didn’t mean good teaching wasn’t going on. Not yet anyway. But the forces were at work.

Our urban district had had a preschool for decades. An outlying district decided to provide a preschool program. The news media lauded it as the most progressive program to be seen in decades. No mention was made of the older district’s programs or their successes.

Then my coworker moved to a suburb with a “premium” school district. Their security guards did not wear uniforms so the parents didn’t know they had, or needed them, or if they did, they didn’t want the image of needing them. Their student problems never made the news. Their students crashed cars, tore up property, and generally were teenagers, but it wasn’t publicized. The desire was to keep the property values up so the news about the school had to always be stellar.

Before “A Nation at Risk,” the state was pretty much content to let the schools do their job. They did not overtly participate in the campaign. However with pressures increasing, and consulting with business groups including real estate boards, the state legislators and administrators began to pressure  ill-advised and ill- planned “reforms” or “improvements” on the urban districts especially. Most of these were invented by college professors who had not taught in the demographic, not teachers in the district. Each year was a revolving door of a new program when the previous program had not been given a chance to succeed. States were afraid to be seen “behind the times” so whatever educational fad was being touted was enforced. Thus began the instability which the urban school or district was then blamed for and which compromised the educational process itself. This contributed to the attack on older districts as well.

Then, after No Child Left Behind, the state, relying on the merciless and useless testing programs (which also made money for testing and textbook companies by mandating changes every year) the state began to “grade” districts and the schools in them. Of course the urban districts always got the worst grades.In an “add insult to injury” move, they tied the funding formula to this. So districts that were already challenged because the property values of older areas were declining (schools are funded through property taxes) were now doubly beat up by the state.

2015-02-26 17.44.28

 

One urban district decided to fight back. They had good schools, good teachers, and good kids. The parents wanted their kids to get an education. They had motivating programs and activities for the students. In other words, they kept doing a good job. But each testing season showed their ranking declining…and their funding and possible accreditation. Why? Because they were in an older residential area.

They took the state to court for unfair practices…and they won! They challenged them to show how the same measures were not begin applied uniformly. They challenged the evaluations. They challenged the definitions and the formulas. They challenged all these things, not because they were against good education, but because they recognized a political game when they saw one.

Kudos to those who stand up and fight! A home does not depend on the house. Education doesn’t depend on how new the school building is. In both cases, it’s the people inside that make it made with love.

 

A Teacher’s Anonymous Meeting

Welcome to the Friday night meeting of Teachers Anonymous

Hi, I’m Kathy. Welcome to the Saturday morning meeting of TA. Let’s open with the Prayer for Patience. “God, give me patience, but give it to me now!” Harry, will you read the Preamble please?

Harry: “Teachers Anonymous is an organization of teachers who share their experience, weakness and despair with other teachers in order to support one another and save our sanity. TA makes no claim as to expertise, excellence, or exceptionality. TA does not affiliate with any professional educational organization or support any educational trend of movement. Discussion of what is best for the student, lesson plans, or educational techniques are not allowed during the meeting.”

Kathy: Thank you, Harry. We’ll now have introductions.

Lois: Well, I’ve had a relatively good week. I was able to surrender the idea of being all things to all people. A parent came up to harangue me about her son’s failure to do any work, but I was able to realize it was her problem and stop apologizing or attempting to soothe her in her desire to escape facing the kind of person her child is becoming..

All: Thanks, Lois.

Grover: Well, I’ve struggled this week. The principal is still after me to take all the responsibility for student behavior in the halls, but I was able to sort out in my mind administrative responsibility from teacher responsibility. Now I’ve got to get the courage to act on it. He tried the old ruse that if my lessons were interesting…no, entertaining enough, the students would just want to be in my class. “You can’t make the horse drink water but you can feed it salt,” is one of his favorite brow beaters.

All: Thanks, Grover.

Vivion: My week was really emotionally disturbing. I’m still being expected to show a month’s test score gains for one month of instruction and my kids cannot focus on the printed page for over five minutes. I’ve got to release my anxieties. The doctor said he cannot prescribe any more medicine in good conscience.

All: Thanks, Vivion.

Mike: I’ve had a good week. Since last week’s meeting, I stopped trying to get all my emotional needs for a sense of accomplishment from teaching. I realize now I can’t be Super Teacher. The kids must take some responsibility. If the administration, parents, business community, government and general culture can’t reinforce what I’m doing, it’s not reasonable for me to flagellate myself, one person, any more for the entire school’s failures.

All: Thanks, Vivion.

Mary: Yes, I’ve learned it’s not my job to spoon-feed anymore. I used to apologize for everything, feel responsible for everyone and others were more than willing to dump on me. I thought being a good teacher meant people-pleasing, blame-taking for all. I started to see that teacher infighting and disunity was the result of a sort of oppression we’ve suffered all these years. Divide and conquer through guilt trips, intimidation, and supply rationing has been the strategy. Snitches have been rewarded. They talk about wanting creativity, but you really get into trouble when you want to go the extra mile. I know now I’m not a bad teacher because I want decent pay and don’t get turned on by the light in a kid’s eye when I can’t live above a lower-class standard of living, even though I have a college degree and 30 years of experience. There’s got to be a larger reason why there’s so much lip service for better pay but it never quite keeps pace for the last 50 years.

All: Thanks, Mary.

Kathy: Well, we’ve had quite a meeting. We’ll turn now to our daily meditation for the following week:

“I am a professional person, not a child. The world is not my parent. I am not responsible for the sins of the culture.”

Let’s join hands as we close. Peace be with you all. See you next week.

 

A Teacher’s Steps to Detachment, Coping and Renewal

Adapted from Emilie Rose

 I surrender…

I admit that of myself I am powerless over my frustration to

teach students who do not want to learn from me. I

surrender my frustration: I let it go.

 

I believe…

I believe that a higher power resides in each one of us that does the

true teaching/guiding. I believe that this power is available to all now.

I no longer equate my worth with others’ lack of positive response.

 

I decide…

I make a decision to respond to the guidance of an inner, higher light.

By this decision I surrender my ego involvement and am released

from all tension and pain. I no longer give myself to mistreatment and

use my assertive skills.

 

I release…

I release all preconceived attitudes towards the students, the

administration, my performance, and my peers. I set no

blocks or limits to what I can accomplish, but open myself

to a willingness to be all that I can be, even if that means leaving

teaching in this setting.

 

I forgive…

I forgive myself for berating myself when the lesson flops, the

students are uncooperative, the administration unsupportive, the parents hostile or

my peers indifferent. I forgive  myself and all others. I bless the opportunities for

spiritual  and professional growth which surround me. I forgive, I release,

I set free, myself and others.

 

I ask…

I ask that I might have the peace to follow higher consciousness guidamce for myself and the courage to direct my talents elsewhere if so guided.

 

I accept…

I am gratefully accepting the peace I have gained in my chosen

profession. I know that my life and the lives of those I touch shall

be made richer through me. When that ceases to be the case, I find

another outlet for my talents, abilities and dedication.

 

I know…

I will be guided to know when to leave the classroom and use my

multiple talents to better advantage in another setting.

 

A Week of Disconnects

2015-01-01 17.35.37A 71 year old teacher trips over a pre-K special needs child and is arrested; a university professor emerges from  the “n” word debate, and the greed of a for-profit college leads to its demise. What could these three incidents tell us about the climate around educational expectations today?

There is scarcely any mother or adult who has not been trying to walk somewhere who has not felt a small child in front of them. In fact, the common phrase “children under our feet” refers to this. 71-year-old Amelia Stripling in Tifton, Georgia’s Pre-K Center resigned after bumping into a small child in front of her as she was trying to go through a door to leave the building. She probably hoped that the powers that be would be appeased. Not so. She was arrested after the mother alleged she pushed her knee in the child’s back, even though the child was not hurt. A sane approach would realize that the mother herself might have had the same experience, but the witch-hunt mindset seized this moment as another excuse to browbeat a teacher who already regretted her misstep and who in no way intended any harm to the child. A simple mistake by a tired teacher was blown up out of proportion and with no empathy for any human mistakes.

A University of Kansas professor, Andrea Quenette, had been on paid leave since November 12th for using the “n” word in a class discussion focusing on helping undergraduates talk about sensitive racial issues. One might say that she was not doing a very good job if this sparked a backlash. However she would not be the first white educator who has been forbidden to use the word in an instructional setting and as part of an effort to encourage tolerance and commitment to create shared understanding. It is the old idea that one’s family can insult each other but don’t let anyone outside do it. It is the same reasoning behind other positions that are allowing only one party a voice at the table. Only blacks should adopt black children; only Latinos should teach Latinos; only Asians should…. Shared cultural backgrounds are very important in communication and education, but we also have to make room for allowing members from other cultures to learn, especially those who value multicultural relationships. Any other position is a one-way street and not communication for mutual understanding.

More damaging than these individual cases, though, is the lack of education that consumer students have when making institutional choices. For-profit colleges like Corinthian, only one of many, operated on a treadmill of financial aid, churning students like fodder to keep the till full. The slick advertising can appeal to busy adults looking for a quick degree and a promotion. But that is the wrong message:  the commodification of education. Education is not a product; it is a process, a lifelong process. Some students have gotten so misinformed or misled as to believe that they are actually paying for the piece of paper called a diploma. There have been news reports of individuals selling GED diplomas up to college ones. It began with buying term papers and turned into diploma mills. Colleges like Corinthian are not much above this mentality.  An entitlement attitude is now expressed  even to college professors as “I am paying your salary; now given me my grade.” And it better be a good one.

How we view the teacher reflects how we view education as a whole. How we view education as a whole, is how we will survive, thrive, or die as a nation.