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Education Nation Teacher Town Hall 2012

She said she doesn’t like when teachers differentiate themselves between charter and public. I nodded cautiously.

At the Education Nation Teacher Town Hall, while NBC anchor Brian Williams feigned nervousness in front of the hundreds of educators in front of us, teachers from all different groups convened at the Public Library, some from groups like National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the American Federation of Teachers (full disclosure: I went under the AFT) and other groups like Educators for Excellence (another full disclosure: -snickers hard-). One of the final people who got on the microphone said what she said about public school teachers versus charter school teachers to a good applause.

The whole crowd generally leaned towards things we believe: fractions are the hardest stumbling blocks for kids to learn in math, teachers shouldn’t be evaluated on test scores, the Chicago teachers strike needed to happen, and unions matter lots. We took surveys, had insightful discussion, and generally felt the lack of morale that most teachers in this country felt. We also felt energized by the idea that, despite how many different entities we represented, we actually care about the students we serve.

Generally.

Now, there’s this often touchy subject about the difference between charter school teachers versus public school teachers (we’ll leave private / magnet / independent / parochial teachers out of this for now). The stereotype is as follows: public school teachers are old, bitter, lazy, and worn-out people just counting the days until they get to retire. They love to be protected by their union because they’re scared they’ll lose their jobs, and perpetuate the stagnation of a public school system bereft of new ideas. Except in small schools where new (often white, young, Ivy League) teachers come in.

The charter school stereotype, conversely, leans on new, inexperienced teachers who either got fed up by the public school system, came through TFA or some other elitist program, or don’t want to get all the qualifications a public school teacher has to get in order to become a real teacher (or a mix of all these pieces). The charter school teacher will most likely leave after three years because they’ll be so burnt out from all the hours they work on extra nights, weekends, and summers, and they’ll leave to law school or some job in education reform. But they’ll leave by saying how much they love the kids.

While these stereotypes might hold weight with a handful of people, I don’t care to hear it for three reasons:

  1. Strong pedagogy is strong pedagogy, no matter where it takes place.
  2. I know enough charter teachers who supported public school teachers during the Chicago Teachers strike.
  3. If we take issue with the proliferation of charter schools (as I do), hate the system, not the teachers who teach in it.

What often gets lost in the discussion between public school advocates and charter school advocates is that, at the end of the day, the average teachers on both sides want very similar things: a professional environment, a system that helps them do the best job for students, and a salary that assures that they’re fairly compensated for the job they do.

I’m not one of those “I disagree on some points that my ‘side’ makes” people who do it to serve some masters’ wishes. Instead, I proffer a better vision for this argument. We have teachers who don’t work for children on both sides of this. We have problems with salaries on both sides of this, too (though I would argue that they’re trying to get rid of public school teachers for ridiculous cost-cutting measures).

But I would never come at a charter school teacher if I knew they were as restless about getting back into class the next morning like I am. I prefer to keep the discussion on this about teachers who care about students (which is the majority of us).

So when the person who went up to the mike said that on Sunday, I nodded. I didn’t care which group she represented (alas, she didn’t have an E$E button on). I just knew she had a passion for her job, and probably wouldn’t want to leave her students. That puts us in very similar straits.

Jose, who prefers nuance over purity …

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Cry Baby

First, watch this video. Then, predict what I might say to this, even before you read this title. Now, multiply that times two and that’s what I said when I watched this. Full disclosure: I was supposed to go to Education Nation, but I had an important date (my godson’s costume birthday party, where I dressed as Batman). Even still, I probably would have rolled my eyes hard at anyone who attended that event and said anything close to what this young teacher said because

a) she’s not helping relieve the stereotype that young White female teachers have no understanding of their surroundings when coming into the urban education system (not always true, but it happens often enough …)

b) as a corollary, she’ll either leave the job after 2-3 years of being in her alternative certification program and then head to med school, law school, or central offices as someone getting paid 30% more money to tell schools what to do

c) she really doesn’t understand what real teachers do.

I like working in these shades of grey because nothing’s ever black and white (pun intended), but teachers who get the work done never settle for what they believe is a union issue. Let’s ignore for purposes of this argument that, historically, time restrictions and workplace conditions were set as a standard for healthy and career teaching, and that without unions and the struggle behind them, teachers would still work in rat holes, have too many periods in a row without getting any chance to plan lessons or  and lose their jobs over meaningless minutiae because there was no such thing as due process.

Can we just agree that teachers just do what they got to do to make things happen for their kids? When kids needed me to stay until 5-6pm to tutor them in math, I never went to my union rep and complained. I just did it. When I wanted to work with my colleagues or call a series of parents one week, I just did it. Before school starts every year, I’m already buying materials and getting to my classroom (if my school’s open) trying to get a feel for my new classroom. And in no way do I consider myself a Superman in the classroom: I take after a ton of my colleagues who’ll readily do the same thing without getting on national TV and spewing another mal-informed opinion. I rarely go to my union except if it’s for some bulletin board mandate or my own understanding of the contract. Little more.

I also can’t be sure what her union rep is telling her or how administration has set expectations at that school, factors I can’t look into. I just feel like a part of the teaching profession gets cheapened by people who think silly things like regulations are preventing them from reaching their students in constructive and caring ways. I know principals secretly cheered her on, but they’re often as cognitively dissonant as some of the teachers in their building.

In other words, just get it done. Ask real questions. And know the ledge before you jump off it.

Jose, who will give his big announcement today …

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