Friday, September 27, 2013

A Trying Year

In a way, this is a gut-wrenching school year for me. It has nothing to do with evaluations, E4E asshats, our puny Teacher's Choice allocations, or any of the other issues you'll frequently hear me moan about on this blog. It has much more to do with the fact that this year, for the first time, I will be eligible to retire.

I know some of you may think this is cause to sing Hosannas, but I am completely ambivalent. Part of me wants to go, and another part wants to stay.

On the plus side, I truly love my school, and my colleagues are great. Even my supervisors are top notch (that's been my experience--the mileage of others may vary). On the minus side, I am tired of the MOSLs and RttT and the thousand other slings and arrows that make teaching such drudgery these days.

My school, along with many others in this city, I am sure, has just spent the last three days administering tests in three subjects so that teachers can be evaluated by them. THREE DAYS of instruction LOST at the very beginning of the year.  In addition to that, all of us will be pulled from our classrooms for an entire day to grade these assessments, so that makes four days lost. None of this has anything to do with the kids--it all has to do with the mania to hold teachers "accountable".

How are we ever going to teach these kids anything if we do nothing but test them?

I'm sure some will claim that I have burned out, but I have not. I could go on teaching indefinitely if not for the massive amounts of meaningless paperwork and testing we have to do. In truth, I want to TEACH, not to be a professional proctor or a data entry collector.

For about the first week of school, I was convinced that this would be my last year. After two PD days filled to the Plimsoll mark with Danielson, MOSL, and IPCs, and a week of baseline essays to administer, I swore this year would be it. And then something happened.

A girl I taught in 6th grade two years ago was crying in my 8th grade class the first day of school this year. I don't know why. I asked her if she was upset at being in my English class again. She look up at me quizzically and her tears stopped. She said, "No, Mr. Talk, of course not. You're my favorite teacher. You've been my favorite teacher since the 6th grade."

I'm still not sure if I should be happy that I can still make a difference in the lives of kids like this girl, or mad at her for giving me a real reason to stay on.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Reign of Error: A Short Review

Diane Ravitch was kind enough to send me and a number of my fellow education bloggers an advance copy of her outstanding new book, "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools". My review of the book should appear shortly in another, far larger venue under my real name.

Rather than rehash what I said there, I'd like to just briefly recommend this book to teachers everywhere. The book is a thorough excoriation of the reform movement. Starting with who the major players are and how they stand to benefit financially from their "reforms", Ms. Ravitch unravels, one by one, all the myths spun by the corporate raiders looking to cash in on public education dollars. She lays bare the truth about all the favorite tropes of the reform movement, such as test scores, the achievement gap, PISA, high school and college graduation rates,
merit pay, and many others.

Readers of this blog will likely delight in a chapter dedicated to the self-aggrandizing Michelle Rhee. Ms. Ravitch dubs her the "face of corporate reform" and then proceeds to slap that face with a broad hand. She exposes Rhee's deceptions about her alleged test score triumphs and the devastation wreaked by Rhee's IMPACT teacher evaluation system.

Perhaps even more important than her expose of the reformers themselves, Ravitch points the way forward. She devotes 100 pages to proposed solutions to what ails public schools, all of which make perfect sense. From pre-natal care to wraparound services, Ms. Ravitch offers common sense solutions that move us away from the blame game so beloved by reformers. She clearly sees teachers as part of the solution, rather than the problem.

I love the fact that his book is coming out at the same time that Bill de Blasio seems poised to become mayor of NYC as the "anti-Bloomberg". It may just be that the pendulum, which has so long swung towards the reformers, may at last be swinging its way back to teachers, students, parents, and other real stakeholders in the education system.

If the reform movement sputters and dies, as most teachers hope it will, we will have no one to thank more than Ms. Ravitch, who has stood up for teachers when most others, including so called democrats such as Obama, have willingly abandoned us in favor of the elite.

You should buy her book, read her blog, and thank your lucky stars that someone of her stature is on our side and the side of the children we teach.