Monday, August 27, 2007

Deaf to All the World

I'm here In Big Unnamed School District doing some back-t0-school professional development. Midway through the day, the superintendent arrives to speak to the teachers. Remarkably, this superintendent is neither an egomaniac nor a blowhard nor a tyrant. He speaks plainly and honestly to the teachers--plaintively, even--about the state of the Big District. It is not a good state of affairs.

The public school population has plummeted in recent years (I think "plummet" is the only fair word here), and parents have made it clear to the Supe, in community meetings he has held, that they have no interest in putting their kids back in to the district without some pretty Radical Action. The message is clear, from parents, from test data, from independent surveys: the district is failing its children.

The district has just entered Corrective Action Stage II, which means that the state could take them over and do whatever they feel is necessary. They have not done so, and have put their faith in the Supe and the Board and their plan for Radical Action. The Supe apologizes to the teachers for the rapid pace of change, but says, "to be perfectly blunt, I feel like if we don't move quickly, we may not have a district left to work in."

Meanwhile, working conditions are not bad, compared to other similar districts in the state and across the country. Class size is not bad, resources are plentiful, and salaries are comparatively healthy.

But, he warns, none of those things will hold if the population keeps dropping. Kids are leaving the system in droves--either being pulled out by parents or dropping out as soon as they hit high school. If we care about this district, if we care about our children, we need to pull together and work together and be willing to change what we're doing. Something Needs To Be Done, and he is determined to do it.

And now he will take questions. Here they are:

1. What about our raises?
2. What about my seniority?
3. What about my job protection?
4. What are you going to do if there's a teacher strike (which could happen any day)?
5. Happy workers are hard workers, and we are not happy workers.
(yes, I know that's not a question, but that seldom stops teachers)
6. I don't feel like I'm being respected.
7. You say most class sizes are small, but my classes are too big. What are you gonna do about that?

On and on it goes. The Supe does his best to answer all of their questions openly and honestly, without recrimination or bitterness, all the while appealing to the crowd to think of this as a shared burden and a shared challenge, for which they will have to find shared answers.

To put it simply, they are not interested.

It goes on for an hour. Not once--I'm not exaggerating: not once--does anyone talk about the students, and what they need in order to succeed, or the district as a whole, and what it needs in order to survive. Never once is there an acknowledgement that they are part of a school community or a city community, and that the problems are large and complex. Not once is there an acknowledgment that people are trying hard to make things better. The entire hour is just one long shriek of "WHAT ABOUT ME?"

I love teachers. I am a teacher. My parents were teachers. My wife is a teacher. Her parents are teachers. Believe me, I do not like bashing teachers.

But good GOD. How can people charged with instilling wisdom and insight in our young be so wildly deaf and blind?

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