The Great Dissenters - The Jose Vilson

The Great Dissenters

by Jose Vilson on January 3, 2008

in Jose

Tolson’s Revolution

A certain unease across the school has settled in and has taken a life of its own. It’s similar to that poltergeist we keep hearing about in scary movies: inaudible yet palpable, invisible yet uncanny. With all the people who walk around the school like phantasms anyways, we start our séances in the teachers’ lounges, speaking of this ghost in tongues.

“I kid you not, there’s just something weird in the school.”

“The teacher morale is definitely at an all-time low this year.”

“I can’t say what it is, but I feel like the NYC school system will definitely get better before it gets worse.”

The pressures and mandates to keep one’s job have led the majority of teachers to do work they unfortunately see as detrimental. The constant changes and lack of efficiency coupled with the conspicuous efforts to dismantle the unions both locally and citywide has translated into more work for less pay. Teachers who had no problem staying until 4pm discussing better classroom management and individualized academic reports for students now leave disheartened from the meaningless time they spend with children who prefer not to be there until 310pm simply because they didn’t do as well as the rest of their classmates.

Yet, when it comes time to actually voice those concerns, we do it in the recesses of our sane zones: the bar, the phone, our blogs, the temporarily empty classroom, or in our minds. Where once we at least felt someone was listening to our concerns and addressing them, we no longer have that sense of community to discuss school concerns. Instead, the talkers lay out the talking points for us, and where once a choice actually meant a choice to voice, this implicitly means these choices are someone else’s and any other concerns have no validity.

And who am I to argue? I’m definitely one of the dissenters of the current educational stance Michael Bloomberg and Co. have taken with teachers, administrators, parents, and students. Yet, these policies have also trickled down to the local school level, where many teachers wonder just how much of what we hear everyday from the higher-ups really comes from supported fact and actual research or is based on bamboozling and hoodwinking the teachers into believing a certain (and oft detrimental) mantra. Many teachers have taken notice of the often demeaning messages sent from different parties and have found the root of these problems.

There’s one little problem: no one’s bold enough to disobey. Not one. Walking down the hallway, in our classrooms, in our professional development meetings, and our pre- and post-observations, we would more readily hide our faces or nod along with the program than pay careful attention to the messages higher-ups broadcast and question like they question their own students in class. This is not to say that sometimes teachers don’t need constructive criticism (I know I do), but teachers are professionals, and thus deserve that level of respect, not just the spiritual adoration and pat-on-the-back, but institutional recognition of our efforts.

Who will go into battle alone? No warrior has ever not had a team behind him or her. The risks are tremendous: losing one’s job, getting sent to a rubber room, getting a letter in your record, getting a restriction placed on your application for tenure, and a general blackmailing across the system as a recluse and a rebel rouser will certainly do a number on one’s reputation, which certainly explains the insane amount of anonymous educational bloggers, many of whom exhibit a certain freedom of speech once their name hasn’t been attached to their own opinions. Unfortunately, what that also means is that critics will quickly abandon this anonymous opinion because a real person won’t stand behind it.

So all we have is a bunch of people sitting on their hands, brooding over their next move, ingesting the apparition’s ghastly images and cursing the morbid thoughts this apparition brought upon these once-idealistic individuals. We debate with the apparition more readily than we discuss our own fears and conjectures. And we do it in our own private space, as pseudonymous as that ghost.

jose, who believes that unjust laws are not laws at all …

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

bam January 3, 2008 at 8:19 pm

“…and you have a right, a duty even, to resist with violence or civil disobedience…”

We should appreciate that you choose the latter.

Damn good flick.

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Tamara Eden January 3, 2008 at 8:38 pm

This does sound like my school right now. However, we do have groups of teachers who will stand up and against our admin; which for the record are almost all newbies doing their jobs like puppets with little warmth and barely a connection to the teachers (not to mention students). Luckily (I suppose) my school is a BIG union school with two strong union leaders and a teacher who is a local union rep. .

But, the point was…

Morale at my school sucks too, and it’s a decent school! Argh. Perhaps I’ll post on all the drama going on in my neck of the woods sometime soon.

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Jose January 3, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Amber, that’s my joint. Really it is.

Tamara, you’re fortunate. Maybe we’ll get our union reps to become strong reps for us, because we have a fully veteran staff at this point, most of whom would be great dissenters if they only cared enough, and weren’t jaded by the lack of positive response from the higher-ups. Can’t wait to read the response.

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pissedoffteacher January 3, 2008 at 9:07 pm

Morale does suck. It wasn’t always like this. I started teaching in an inner city school. We worked hard and loved our kids. We tutored after school and before school (by choice–not for any extra money), we put on shows to raise money for them, we played basketball with them. Things were rough but we loved our jobs and our students and they knew it.

Things are different now. You can’t be in a room alone with a student. You can’t hug a student who is going through bad times. You are being forced to prepare every kid for college when some kids can barely read and write.

I liked it better when administrators hid in their offices and let teachers do their jobs without interference. They trusted us to know what was best for our kids. We learned by doing. I started teaching when I was 20–the same age as some of my students. I know I made mistakes but I also did lots of good things, things I will never be allowed to do again.

Nowadays, we have to worry about tests. We have to worry about teaching in a horse shoe. We have to do the “work shop” model. We have to do so many things that have nothing to do with teaching or are detrimental to teaching that our teaching is hurt.

I’ve tried to fight the system. I’m the rebel in my school. My principal has told me to transfer (which I can’t and won’t do). He doesn’t care about my results or about what I do for the kids. He only cares that I won’t jump for him and that I keep on doing what I feel is right for my kids. My fighting does no good. I feel lost in this crazy system. I feel like I am fighting a losing battle.

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Tracy Rosen January 4, 2008 at 9:32 am

Sounds like scary times. Also kinda sounds like you are approaching that still space before a storm. Action may feel stilled right now, let’s hope it isn’t for long – it can’t be.

Also, need to let you know that I love the way the words flow in this:
… the talkers lay out the talking points for us, and where once a choice actually meant a choice to voice, this implicitly means these choices are someone else’s …

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DMB January 4, 2008 at 1:58 pm

I so agree with the sentiments of pissedoffteacher. I haven’t taught in America in two years now, though, and it is incredible how much of the daily frustrations I’ve forgotten. I do remember being quite a rebel at my last school. Wasn’t cool, though. Can’t become so antagonistic that you become this argumentative shadow of the former person that you used to be–damaging the relationships with your administrators and so forth.

What’s the good in that?

In the end, I think we just need to keep in mind that Politics are Politics and that is what runs our schools. But our job is not to worry about that. Our job is to directly impact the lives of the students whose lives we touch daily.

In that sense, we’ll always be a thousand steps ahead of adminstration, politicians and all that other ying yang, so who cares?

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pre_k January 4, 2008 at 7:16 pm

I once said in a post about a year or so ago how teachers’ will strike over money but will not take to the streets over educational policy. I lived through a teachers’ strike in jersey city and personally i thought it was a sad state of affairs. while they all fought for teachers rights i don’t think no one in that union thought about the students in that city.

While it is illegal for public service servants to strike in new york city I don’t think sitting in teachers lounges amounts to much of a resistance either. of course people will say i do not understand the climate or circumstances of being a teacher and truth of the matter is i probably do not (even though i have two aunts, a mother(of sorts), and numerous friends that are teachers) but i do know what standing up for one’s beliefs is about. I know what having some conviction is about. And playing it safe is not how either of these things work.

If teachers in good conscience can tell a kid not to be afraid to stand out and buck the power structure that is popularity then they should be just as willing to buck the power structure that is the administration.

your words seem to come to mind here, sometimes we got to be willing to risk a little bit, sometimes we have to take our chances, sometimes it makes sense to “walk on water”.

of course there is probably a lot that can be said in this regard but you know i am not about to blog in your comment box… piece and blessings.

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Alisha9 January 5, 2008 at 11:36 am

It’s not just teachers. . . a lot of building administrators feel the same kinds of “restrictions on professionalism” as do teachers. When you receive mandates of what “BETTER BE” going on in your building “OR ELSE” (whether or not what BETTER BE makes sense for your particular community). . . it can be one of the most frustrating catch 22′s . . .

Interesting point though from Pre_K “. . .teachers’ will strike over money but will not take to the streets over educational policy. . .” Is that what it’s going to take, really??

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Jose January 6, 2008 at 3:03 am

Alisha, I was more referring to specific incompetent administrators, not to administrators who do their jobs properly.

And yes, Kel, that might be exactly what it takes. A coalition between the parents, students, and faculty rebelling against the system. Whoops, did I say that out loud?

The reason we should care, DMB, is because we could be stripped of that power of autonomy to inspire in a matter of a few bills, and that’s dangerous. We’ll continue to have even more idealists turn into fatalists.

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DMB January 6, 2008 at 11:00 pm

I have to admit, I don’t know the issues that are facing New York’s teachers currently. I have taught in New York for about seven years and in Ohio for six. The issues that each state faces are different and change over time. Every couple of years or so, there are attempts at new policies and new catch-phrases and I tend to not pay much mind.

But pardon me for my ignorance.

In essence, I can say that the state government’s attempts to regulate and control what is largely a societal problem (not an educational problem) will not succeed. There will simply be chaos and resentment on behalf of the teachers on top of the chaos and apathy that exists in the schools.

The new policies willnot last long and there will be a desperate race to establish more blame (which will fall on the teachers, of course.) and then there will be new policies and the same cycle will repeat itself.

Teachers have always suffered the brunt of these so-called ‘solutions’.

But I applaud those of you who decide to be vocal and fight for what is right. Like I said, I was a pretty vocal, rebellious person and after a while the bitterness and rebellion just got the best of me. I think there needs to be a healthy BALANCE between speaking out, resistance as well as the understanding that the ‘system’ has never been designed to aid the teachers, in the first place.

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