Sunday, August 9, 2009

At Schools Matter: Commentary on: A teacher explains why she is leaving

Teacher retention, or lack thereof, is the topic of the day.

This post by teacherken, "A teacher explains why she is leaving," is so sensible and goes so deep.

But Schools Matter is a blog that always goes deep.* Read about Sarah Fine, a Teach for America recruit in a charter school in Washington DC, who leaves the classroom after 4 years. Now of course if she continues writing about teaching, TFA will count her as one of the ones who remained connected to education in some manner without addressing the reasons she left.

Actually, when Fine talks about lack of respect for classroom teachers, there is something inherent in TFAs' emphasis on their people migrating out of the classroom and into leadership positions. You know, at TFA it's all about making policy, not actually teaching kids.

After reading Fine's op ed in the Washington Post and teacherken's analysis, come back here.

So many good points were touched on. But I think a missing ingredient for many frustrated teachers is being part of an external political force for change to counter their isolation. The union could have been that force but is clearly not. And the UFT, other than in its earliest infancy, never has been since I started teaching, though it mouthed off like it was.

I was lucky when in 1970 I met a group of like-minded teachers and we banded together to publish our views and reach out to others. As progressive reform educators we became somewhat of an alternative voice in the UFT to Shanker. We met just about every week for 10 years. We went back to school the next day with renewed rigor. We gained political perspective so that every day we went in to school with a better understanding of the forces that were affecting our kids and our jobs. We were probably better teachers for it because we didn't tend to blame our kids or their parents or ourselves.

Did we accomplish the reform we sought? Not at all. But we kept each other sane and in the system, myself for 35 years working in one of the more depressed areas of Brooklyn.

But we taught each other to be equipped to fight our administrations more effectively and also to fight our own union, which unfortunately, often teamed up with admins against political activists. (There is nothing to toughen you up like having your district UFT rep and your district superintendent visit your assistant principal together and suggest he find ways to give you a U rating).

I put a piece in the side panel from Chicago CORE's co-chairperson Jackson Potter that relates to this issue. CORE reminds me of the group I was with in the 70's:

Jackson spoke about how CORE is effectively changing the culture of the Union. He spoke about how CORE came from a group of teachers who were not interested in leaving the classroom, but were interested in using our brotherhood and sisterhood within the Union to make the classroom a place where we can better serve our students. CORE wants to put a stop to the culture of “the further you get away from the classroom, the bigger the rewards.”

Go to Chicago Sarah Fine and seek out CORE. You would live to teach many more years. Or just come to NYC and hang out with GEM and ICE.

Recently, I've been meeting some young teachers with a social justice political perspective in Teachers Unite and GEM. Hopefully they will band together in ways that will keep them in the game– and in the classroom. That is part of what TU is doing with its teacher activism courses and the monthly chapter leader support groups.

*Recent posts on charters schools at Schools Matter
Governor Patrick Intervenes in Corrupt Charter Approval in Gloucester

Charter Alliance Owes $400,000 to District; Accountability, Oversight, Responsibility Lacking


  1. What's really interesting is that the Washington Post gave this teacher this much coverage in our Sunday newspaper. When I was criticized last year by the Post editorial board, trying to fight a teacher contract proposal that sought to strip us of seniority, The Washington Post would barely allow me a 150 word response. Interesting how that works, isn't it. So much for our mainstream press.

    You make excellent points in your piece. I also agree about the value of groups like GEM and CORE, etc. Unfortunately as you are aware here in DC we don't yet have any caucuses like those in other cities in the US. Our goal is to create at least one caucus. It's almost like we all need a 'band of brothers' to stay above water with what we have to deal with as activists in the education reform movement. I am very impressed with Teachers Unite in New York and only wish we had one in DC. As always, I just love your blog ! Keep up the great work.

  2. We're ready and willing to send a crew to DC to assist in any way we can.


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