Well it has been about a week since I last updated my blog and a ton has happened. Last weekend I was in Washington DC for the Teach For America 20th Anniversary Summit. At the summit there were speakers such Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klien, Geoffrey Canada, Randi Weingarten, and Malcolm Gladwell. There were a ton more whose names I just don’t remember off the top of my head. The weekend overall was amazing. Most of the sessions that I went to were looking at the future of education and education reform. I feel even more riled up about everything that is going on in our nation right now in education and the major hurdles that we have to face. (I’ll come back to this whole education reform topic in a minute).
The summit also gave me the chance to meet up with a number of friends who I haven’t seen in quite a while. Beth Lewis (TFA Mississippi Delta) and I spent most of the weekend together. We laughed quite a bit about our experiences so far as teachers and were able to commiserate about some of the more painful moments. Beth and I have stayed in contact largely because of Teach For America. It was really great to also hear perspectives from her friends working in the delta about education in America. I also ran into Joy Bacon (TFA Baltimore) and had the opportunity to catch up with her as well. The school she is currently working in will be shut down at the end of the school year. My final Whitworth buddy in DC who actually isn’t a part of TFA is Sarah Tunall. She and I shared some great Chinese food. Sarah was my Whitworth small group leader four years ago when I was a freshman. It is amazing to see what God has done with us both throughout these years.
Well now I will go back to my frustration over the giant screw up that the education system is currently. I left the summit with a bit of momentum. I wanted to be a little bit more open in my opinions about the education system and specifically tenure. I practically had my head bitten off this afternoon by a number a teachers at my school for saying that I was opposed to tenure. One of the teachers actually said, “I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a bad teacher.” Well I beg to differ, but I most certainly think that there is such a thing as a great teacher, a satisfactory teacher, and an awful teacher. Just because we don’t have a perfect system of measuring teacher success doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ry. I know that if I sit in two different teachers’ classes who are teaching the same subject that I could determine which teacher I would rather have my kids learn from. In my mind that shows, while subjectivity can play a role, that we do have the ability to tell if one teacher is better than another. I know that I want my kids to have teacher who will prepare them for the future. While there are many things that teachers may do that cannot be tangibly assessed, I know that in the ways a teacher can be assessed they should be, Student outcomes have to play a role in teacher evaluation. Note that I said a role; I do not mean that they should be the only factor. Students, fellow teachers, and principals should all be able to play a role in teacher evaluation as well.
In the national news Wisconsin seems to have taken center stage this week over education reform. While the focus of the problem in Wisconsin is budget cuts, teachers across the country are aware of what is going on. The government is trying to take a significant amount of power away from the unions. While I do believe that the unions play an important role in protecting teachers rights, they have taken things to such an extreme that I don’t think we will be able to make forward progress until the unions power is broken. For too long they have dictated the terms of education and maintained a system of failure. While every teacher should be protected, students should be protected above teachers. I would rather see a few good teachers thrown under the bus in a faulty system than see any student forced to deal with a truly horrible teacher. There needs to be an easier and more effective way of removing teachers. Teaching children is a privilege, not a right.
This morning I was told that three of the students in my long term class, kids who I am supposed to have for six or more months, were sent upstate due to staffing shortages in their housing set up. I am extremely concerned about these students because they struggled with their transition to our school and have been making significant progress. I don’t want that progress halted by a system that failed them. I am praying that they have been moved into a good situation, but unfortunately chances are they have been sent to a place that will be extremely detrimental to their learning. We have winter break this week and I am hoping that we have them back by the end of the break.
On the topic of break, I am on a plane right now flying to Austin, TX. Our in flight film is the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” I was thrilled to see how many people on the plane were watching the film. Towards the end I got up to go to the bathroom and saw a number of people crying. While I don’t agree with everything that the film portrays, I think that it is far more accurate than the propaganda that the teachers unions spew. I am going to add a post soon that has copies of the emails that I have received from my union rep so far. At this point any time that I get and email from him I know that it is going to be something that I strongly disagree with. Some of them are really fun to read though. They are filled will all sorts of inflammatory language.
This week I will be visiting friends in Texas, California, and Colorado. I’m sure updates from time with friend will follow.