When I was in college, I heard a riveting story.
Actually, you probably heard it too.
It went like this: American public schools are failing. Teachers have abysmally low expectations of their students. They are getting paid to spend their time in rubber rooms! This is the civil rights issue of our time.
I was indignant. And I needed a job.
And so, like so many college students of my generation, I went straight from college into a classroom in the Bronx as a New York City Teaching Fellow.
At first, I was elated. I had always wanted to teach elementary school, but it wasn’t really what you did if you went to a fancy and expensive college like I did. But now I had a way.
I was, of course, rudely awakened. You probably know this story too: young new teacher discovers she is utterly unprepared to manage a group of unruly students. She cries a lot.
I had taken a position teaching children with the “emotional disturbance” label in New York City’s district for students with severe special needs, and could do little more than hang on by my fingernails for the first year. They fought, they swore, and they saw me for what I was: a white girl from Maine who had no clue what she was doing. My experienced colleagues – the ones who were supposed be lazy and incompetent – offered to help, but I was a terrible listener. I was too busy searching for the story I had been told and trying the play the role I had been assigned – even though nothing fit.
By the end of my third year, I had grown humbler, but was no less gullible. This time, I fell for the second part of the story above – the part that tells how charter schools are the answer to all these failing public schools. You know, the Waiting for Superman story.
And so I left my position for one at a relatively new charter school in Brooklyn that modeled itself after the KIPP and Success Academy “No Excuses” regime.
You can read the details here, but the short version is that I was horrified. We snapped at the kids like dogs and obsessed over standardized test scores like they were cancer diagnoses. My previous school had been challenging, but it was full of warmth. There was no warmth at this school. No kindness. Panic filled our classrooms and hearts.
I have been fooled twice. Shame on me. But it won’t happen again. I hear, now, the stories reformers tell for what they are. Disrespect, hubris, empty jargon. PR.
And, of course, the stories are ever changing.
The latest tale is that teachers have been teaching too much. Forget all that lazy and incompetent stuff we’ve been talking about, we are told. The real problem is that we are self-centered. We love to hear ourselves talk, and we only teach what we’re interested in.
Step aside side, ladies (because yes, teachers are mostly women) – and take your desks with you!
Stop filling those kids’ heads with facts. (What facts? For years, you’ve only tested our students on isolated math and reading skills!)
The era of digital learning has arrived, and we’ve got the 21st Century products that will turn out that 21st Century human capital we need. Teachers, welcome to your new role as a “node” in this “personalized” system. Students are now “at the center.”
The center of what? It’s unclear, until you see a diagram like the one below.
Take a moment to watch the video below from the Nellie Mae Foundation. What story do you hear? Whose story is it?