teacher Archives - The Jose Vilson

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Xian Barrett has been one of my favorite education commenters in the last year or so. His commentary can simultaneously crack you up and crack your jaw, swelling and opening eyes unflinchingly. Today, CNN’s School of Thought asked him to contribute to their blog. Good on you, CNN. Observe:

Most Chicago teachers give our all in very challenging conditions. A recent Gates study suggests that the average teacher works 53 hours per week, while University of Illinois researchers found that Chicago teachers work approximately 58 hours per week. Several years ago, I counted my own hours and found that I was consistently working between 70-90 hours each week. Through challenging conditions, we impact hundreds of students positively every day; sometimes in small ways, sometimes in earth shattering, life-changing ways.

[...]

On any given day, I will spend two hours at home creating my own lesson plans or adjust existing materials to the specific needs of my students. I will also sit down to grade papers and return calls and messages. Many of my texts, emails, Facebook, Twitter and phone messages are from current students, usually regarding homework and several are from former students needing a letter of recommendation or support on some life emergency.

The other day, I finally called back my mother who’s been calling me for days. She says, “You sound tired, I’m going to let you go.” I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m., and glanced at my cell phone. It was 1:14 a.m. I fell asleep on the couch.

Yes.

Of course, the current talk about professionalizing teachers consists of them working harder for more hours. Two problems with this line of thinking. First, we aren’t getting paid more, we’re getting paid for the hours we’re actually working. Secondly, it assumes that most of us don’t work harder than the clocked minutes we’ve been given. I don’t have any concrete data on this [ahem], but many teachers have told me that they don’t even start families of their own because they work with so many at a time for more than half the year. I know for certain that the United States has the highest face-to-face time out of any “developed” country in the world, so giving us more time might not be the solution.

Some of this misplaced time management comes from people’s beliefs about some of the alternative or charter schools where time knows no bounds. These environments tend to burn teachers out quickly, and those students never get the “expert” teacher because they become the  guinea pigs year after year. Some of us have to restrict the time we spend thinking about school because we do it so often already because, if not, we get burned out too.

When Xian asks non-educators to listen to teachers and for teachers to speak clearly about what teachers go through on a daily basis, we have begun a conversation that gets people to consider solutions. In my heart of hearts, I believe the American public believes in us; we prove it with tireless effort towards improving our own profession.

Jose, who will have a book giveaway on Thursday …

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Tightrope Walker

I don’t know whether it’s because I’m young, Black / Latino, and / or well-dressed more often than not, but people have serious misconceptions about what I actually do in the building. This seems to be the case with lots of teachers I’ve met who, for whatever reason, have been pulled out of the classroom. Some of us are an ambitious lot who don’t really want to be in the classroom but want to work in education. Others just want to become administrators (no way). Most of the the teacher leaders and coaches I know, however, simply believe that they would better serve their community at large by having this in-between role where they could have a teacher’s voice in a board room. That often has mixed results, but that’s not the point of this particular post. So, without further adieu, here are the five biggest misconceptions for teacher leaders and coaches:

1. We have nothing else to do.

This is probably the largest complaint my fellow coaches have about their jobs. We understand that our first job is supposed to be to support our fellow teachers and we do so willingly. It’s just that we have the same obligations to tends of other teachers and administration who don’t take no for an answer.

2. We’re snitches for the administrators.

Our job states that we have to be liaisons to administrators, but not actually do observations of any nature. As a matter of fact, we shouldn’t even mention whom we visit (not observe) and what brought us there. If administrators ask us to go visit, it’s to help a teacher out, not to report back on our findings. Frankly, some don’t follow that rule because they’re scared for their jobs or they’re actual snitches, hoping that bringing other teachers down will make them look better by comparison. Yet, most of my friends know this code and hold it close to their hearts, which leads me to another thought …

3. We’re snitches for the teachers.

People have this weird belief that, once we say we’ve pledged our allegiance to our colleagues that we’re going to betray the trust administrators have in some of us. Much the way teachers expect us to not tell administrators what’s happening in their classrooms, administrators expect us to keep their thoughts and office business tightly sealed. It’s a different game when we’re acting as the in-between, so we’re often asked to reiterate or re-purpose the visions handed down to us from administrators and outside forces, many of whom never have to meet with the day-to-day teacher because we’re there.

4. We have lots of power.

This one really varies from person to person. For some, being a teacher leader means that the head of school fully respects you and your opinion, and gives you a certain degree of autonomy on the things he / she has assigned you to do. In other cases, that trust isn’t always there. It varies so frequently that the regular classroom teacher / staff member ought not to assume how much power one has until they see it for themselves. Plus, the power play depends also on the dynamics of the school system. In NYC, where teachers do have a certain level of protection, teachers can vocalize the things teacher leaders can’t.

5. We don’t teach.

This probably hurts most of the teacher leaders I know, because this statement usually equates to not being able to teach. The people that I trust in were accomplished teachers before they ever stepped into their current roles. They still have their lesson plan books and / or teaching materials. I personally teach a class for the full eight periods I’m assigned, and that’s something I asked for because it gives me an insight I can’t gain by just coming in for drop-by visits. When we develop assessments and lesson plans together, I can implement the strategies on my own students, and not do it as some sort of mock lesson. Building that trust is important for me, so that’s the route I chose. Others weren’t assigned a class, even when they miss it daily.

As stated before, some of us don’t actually want to teach, which is fine because who wants a teacher in a room that doesn’t actually want to teach? The best teacher leaders and coaches I know, however, have one foot in the classroom and build trust by any means necessary. They know how to translate the visions of administrators into meaningful practice for teachers and can provide proper feedback to higher-ups about next steps. It’s a delicate balance we play, but it’s more necessary than people think.

This stuff requires a stable mind and a set of feet impervious to callouses. They’re not good for walking tightropes.

Mr. Vilson, who thanks Matthew Ray for this …

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