This past weekend, I was called "earnest" by Robert Pondiscio at the Core Knowledge blog, an adjective that rather delights me. I had no idea I might still qualify as earnest. Unfortunately, I'm not feeling very earnest today, due to recent events at my school about which I will not go into detail, and as you can possibly tell from this blog's title and accompanying image, I'm thinking about failure today.
This chain of thought was initiated by the announcement of the impending closure of Jamaica High School. Opponents of the closure believe that, in some ways, they were set up to fail by the DOE: the declaration of Jamaica as "persistently dangerous," the out-crowding of Jamaica and its students by a small school, lack of support from the DOE or recognition for any of Jamaica's positive achievements. If this is the case (and it may well be), it makes me wonder how much teachers, in general, can be set up to fail.
As I attempt to hang on to some of my earnestness, I'll admit that maybe this isn't on purpose. Maybe it's just a lack of time, a lack of money, a lack of understanding--one of my personal mantras is, "Never attribute to conspiracy what can be explained by incompetence." But I look at my day today, and other things happening at my school, and I wonder. I really do.
There is no organized effort to help teachers to succeed. Oh, there's professional development and workshops and computer systems and data analysis. All of this is supposed to make us better teachers, and maybe it will, but there's no actual way to help us succeed. Follow me here. There are only so many hours in a day and so many days in a week and so many weeks and months in a school year. And everything that happens in a school that is supposed to help us succeed usually ends up creating more work, rather than less--and not necessarily improving learning for our students, either. And if we as teachers point that out, we are accused of not really wanting to help our students succeed.
But no one is helping us succeed. Our classrooms, our school days, our evenings, our weekends are packed to the brim. Any opportunity any of us might have to breathe during the day is sniffed out and taken for meetings or coverages. Brand new teachers almost always get the toughest, most challenging classes. Today I realized that I got to work in the dark, left work in the dark, and spent all of 20 minutes in between not working. Yes, I worked through lunch. And I know what my detractors will say here--"So do lawyers and doctors and investment bankers." Yeah, well, they get paid to put up with that. We don't.
And principals or elected officials or "reformers" come into schools and, with no regard for what's already working, will come in and make things over in their own image, not realizing that ripping everything apart and starting over again will itself take even more work--work that may not even be necessary. But remake it they will, not realizing that asking teachers and students to learn something new from scratch means that no one is going to be successful right away--if they don't also feel resentful and confused on top of unsuccessful. This is what I mean by "set up to fail": not merely overworked, but overscheduled, overmanaged, overhassled.
I don't know how to make this work sometimes, and when I'm short or not as available as I should be with my students, I want to forgive myself and say it's natural when I'm so stressed out. But I can't, quite that easily. It's not okay. Overall I should be fair, calm, pleasant, reasonable with these kids, no matter what, and I'm not always. And I wish that someone would stop all this nonsense about "adults' needs" and "children's needs" and realize that they're the same damn thing when it comes to making sure the adults aren't being driven absolutely crazy and, therefore, have some shreds of patience and empathy left for the children.
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