Sometimes you just have to let something settle. Chew on it mentally. Process.
On Wednesday, Jessie and I went to see Waiting for "Superman." If you are not familiar with this movie, please read this synopsis. If you want to see it, and do not wish to hear any spoilers, stop reading this post at this point. Let's start with the trailer:
I remember my days at Blackburn when we discussed "inner city" schools, and I wanted to be a part of teaching in an urban setting. I felt a strong calling to do so.
I have been a teacher for 20 years. My career started in a city, went affluent and private for a few years, came to a school that had both extremes, and has recently alighted upon a school with a large number of students who have what is called "low socio-economic status" in an urban setting. I have served Catholic and public school systems. I have worked with and without union protection. I have pulled "all-nighters" grading student papers. I have worked through weekends and over most summers. I have earned a Master's degree and National Board Certification and re-certification. I was one of the only twenty-somethings who worked (alas, unsuccessfully) toward building a teacher's association in the Catholic diocese in which I worked. I believed it was necessary because much was expected of us, while little was paid. I have served as a building representative and as a negotiator for my local teacher's union after moving to the public sector. I make contact with each of my parents/guardians, whether they welcome my correspondence or not. I want students to feel like graduating from high school and educating themselves beyond that is not only something I believe they can do, it's something I expect them to do.
It is through these eyes that I watch this movie.
The trailer upset me, as I assumed teachers would, again, take a public bashing. Because, as you know, everyone has gone to school, and therefore, everyone is an expert at education. Right? Right. I can take it, though. I have thick skin. What was more troubling was watching students sit in a public lottery that was deciding their educational fate. I knew that some parts of that movie would require some tissues.
However, my good and wise friends made the point...If we are going to have an opinion about the movie, we need to see it for ourselves. Seen it I have. It inspired the following thoughts to anyone who sees it who is outside of education:
PLEASE KNOW that most of the education professionals I know contact parents on a regular basis, especially when the parent contacts them first.
PLEASE KNOW that most of the education professionals I know care deeply about the students they teach and wish for them to succeed.
PLEASE KNOW that most of the education professionals I know are judged solely on one state test that happens once a year on which they can offer no support or assistance for their students to succeed. In Illinois, we are not even permitted to look at the student booklets when they take the state tests.
PLEASE KNOW that most of the education professionals I know use several points of data to make decisions about the achievement levels of their students.
PLEASE KNOW that most of the education professionals I know NEED the protection of a union because not all administrators in the school setting make just, or even logical, decisions.
PLEASE KNOW that most of the education professionals I know try to touch base with the parents of each student they have, even when they have over a hundred students on their caseloads.
PLEASE KNOW that most of the education professionals I know have been stood up by parents who have scheduled meetings with them. Recently, a colleague shared with me that she had 1 out of 6 scheduled parents show up for conference times on an evening when she spent a great deal of time after school waiting for them.
PLEASE KNOW that most of the education professionals I know would LOVE to have the parents documented in the movie, as well as the kids. Those kids will be successful BECAUSE of their parents.
PLEASE KNOW that most of the education professionals I know who are tenured continue teaching with the same fervor as they did when they were probationary.
PLEASE KNOW that most of the education professionals I know have never, ever had the chance to even sit at their desks much less fall asleep or read a book at them while class goes on (I do know some who have pulled this crap, though).
PLEASE KNOW that most of the education professionals I know communicate regularly with students about their achievement in their classes.
PLEASE KNOW that most of the education professionals I know have had a parent tell them that their after school lives are too busy for their children to complete homework.
PLEASE KNOW that most of the education professionals I know could, indeed, do things that tenure cannot protect. There are tenured teachers who have been fired. It depends on how good of a job the administrator does at observing, evaluating, and documenting his experiences with the employee.
With that said,
YES, sometimes unions can lose sight of their purpose and get in the way of education reform.
YES, unions are largely involved in politics, as the money schools get comes from budgets created by legislators.
YES, larger metropolitan areas have a hard time maintaining buildings and hiring and keeping good faculty. Please consider the working conditions and ask yourself if you are willing to commit to that before assigning judgment.
YES, some charter schools are successful. The data on charter schools over all was not mentioned in this movie. The "education system" was painted with a wide brush, but charter schools were looked at standing on individual merit.
YES, union contracts level teachers too much. I believe in merit pay, but I don't have a solid idea of how to create a "just" way of implementing a plan that will not compromise teacher integrity and is not based solely on the opinion of one administrator.
YES, I agree that using a traditional tracking system for students is not best practice. However, students do have to be grouped at some points of their day according to instructional needs. We call it "differentiating."
YES, some teachers should never, ever have entered the profession. Some should be let go. Some children should not have to suffer through apathetic teachers.
YES, the times are a-changin'. We HAVE to teach children in preparation for a world in which "blue collar" jobs are becoming non-existent. For some, it will require showing them an existence far different from the one in which they currently live. We need to stop fighting the world they live in, and learn to teach them not only to survive, but to thrive.
I appreciated that the film acknowledged that there are hard-working, good teachers in America. I believe the basic point of the film was that each child deserves to have one. I agree 100%.