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Oh this learning, what a thing it is!
December 11, 2012 7:43 AM   Subscribe

I am a brilliant English teacher. So, I quit. An English teacher with experience in public schools and charter schools details her layoff at the former and her disillusionment at the latter in a first-hand account of the state of education in the States.
posted by whimsicalnymph (116 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good stuff.

The absolute gall of the founder to refuse to send his children to his own school is telling and appalling.
posted by oddman at 7:55 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


> The school “culture” was militaristic: students were only allowed to walk on taped lines on the floors in hallways, classrooms, and outside sidewalks, they were required to chant as a way to pump them up about being in school and to remind themselves that they could learn, they were not allowed to speak during breakfast or lunch, children were not allowed to bring their own lunches from home, and most importantly, I was told that there were to be no projects or activities conducted in my teaching.

When I was a kid in school we used to joke about it being a prison, but shit...even prisoners are allowed to talk during meals.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:55 AM on December 11, 2012 [13 favorites]


The absolute gall of the founder to refuse to send his children to his own school is telling and appalling.

Maybe this should be the test: charter school founders have to be willing to send their children/grandchildren, etc into the same program. If they really believed that their program was better than the public curriculum, they should be enthusiastic to do so.
posted by jb at 7:57 AM on December 11, 2012


I don't see how the author's experience in a single school is a large enough sample size to be representative of "the state of education in the States." It sounds like she just got hired by a school with a different "corporate culture" to her prior one.

We've all had experiences at one point or another where we got hired by a company where we didn't quite fit, right? I think the best solution in that situation is simply to switch to a different company, not to quit that line of work altogether. Particularly when you're very good at it and have enjoyed doing it at different companies.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:58 AM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


The New Orleans charter school system she ended up in sounds truly appalling--but it doesn't really sound all that representative of "the state of education in the States." Clearly it was nothing like the "very large Georgia school system" from which she was unceremoniously made redundant (presumably the result of strict seniority "last on, first off" rules). That seems to have been a system she was very happy to teach in.
posted by yoink at 7:59 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree--the problem here is the New Orleans charter system, which has become a real shelter for graft and corruption.
posted by liketitanic at 8:00 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


We've all had experiences at one point or another where we got hired by a company where we didn't quite fit, right? I think the best solution in that situation is simply to switch to a different company, not to quit that line of work altogether. Particularly when you're very good at it and have enjoyed doing it at different companies.

Jesus, she's not talking about a workplace. She's talking about education.
posted by jokeefe at 8:03 AM on December 11, 2012 [45 favorites]


In fact, if you read closely, you'll find the fundamental problem right at the beginning: she was, even though a gifted and high-performing teacher, with students who flourished under her care, laid off from a school district dealing with budget cuts. The issue is the under-funding of public schools in America in general, but particularly in areas where children need them the most. She was doing profound good where she was; it was impossible for her to continue that work in the charter-school system in NOLA.
posted by jokeefe at 8:07 AM on December 11, 2012 [37 favorites]


One of the basic rationales for charter schools is to allow a diversity of approaches to education. By their very nature, therefore, one charter school cannot be representative of all charter schools. Maybe it can be representative of a specific approach, but not all charter schools. That's the point. That's what led to the odd neocon-progressive coalition that created the laws allowing for charter schools in the first place. It's supposed to free schools form teaching to a strict state curriculum and allow them to develop their own program. (This is the case in Massachusetts anyway, which is the state whose system I am most familiar with.)

If you don't agree with this rationale, or think there should be a state or federal standardized curriculum like in many other countries, or are uncomfortable with the notion that charter schools could be considered to be running their students through an experiment that might end in failure, then make that argument, but don't use one charter school as a strawman to attack the concept of charter schools.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:07 AM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Clearly it was nothing like the "very large Georgia school system" from which she was unceremoniously made redundant (presumably the result of strict seniority "last on, first off" rules).

I don't think you can blame the teachers' unions here. She said that her previous school district had budget issues.
posted by jokeefe at 8:08 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jesus, she's not talking about a workplace. She's talking about education.

Education is a workplace for teachers, and there's no reason for them not to treat it as such. It's not a mystical calling or religious vocation; it's a job.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:08 AM on December 11, 2012 [12 favorites]


No, it's not. It's not just a job. Goddamn.
posted by jokeefe at 8:10 AM on December 11, 2012 [72 favorites]


I know some folks who work in Education Reform who will really dig this. Thanks, WhimsicalNymph L.J.!
posted by Skygazer at 8:11 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


And with that I bow out, because I'm going to start making comments I might regret. I will never understand disdain for teaching and teachers as I see it in America.
posted by jokeefe at 8:11 AM on December 11, 2012 [29 favorites]


Maybe not "just" a job, but it's still a job. Otherwise, why have unions at all?
posted by valkyryn at 8:11 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, it's not. It's not just a job. Goddamn.

It is not JUST a job. But is IS a job and a school IS a teacher's workplace. I'm not sure why you are insisting it isn't. Can you clarify?
posted by SkylitDrawl at 8:12 AM on December 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Jesus, she's not talking about a workplace. She's talking about education.

Right, that's my point. She talked about how much she liked her previous teaching job, and the problems she's describing all started when she began this new job. So from a logical standpoint it makes much more sense to assume that rather than being a systemic issue, this is a problem related to this specific work environment, right? I'm just confused as to how she leaps to the conclusion that this is what schools are like everywhere and that this is the general state of education when her own experience directly refutes that. Does that make sense to you? I know my logic is solid, but am I possibly missing some detail in the article that supports her unfounded conflation?

Or am I misunderstanding what you said? Are you implying that education jobs are somehow special and that teachers shouldn't perceive schools as their workplace?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:14 AM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Just to add: I say this as a Masters of Education student for whom teaching is a passion. I love teaching, I am dedicated completely to it, but the school is clearly my workplace.)
posted by SkylitDrawl at 8:14 AM on December 11, 2012


jokeefe: "No, it's not. It's not just a job. Goddamn."

From an employment and HR perspective, it really does need to be treated that way.

Education shouldn't be run like a business, but we can't have a separate set of ethics and rules for teachers and the rest of the workforce. That road leads to a very dark place.
posted by schmod at 8:14 AM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Get your corporate bullshit out of my mystic calling.
posted by Faux Real at 8:16 AM on December 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


tl;dr: Teacher has inexplicably high opinion of herself based on performance of her previous (whiter, higher SES) students. Is accredited to teach secondary education, yet accepts position at charter elementary school. Is unprepared for elementary education environment and weird school culture. Decides that problem is systemic, writes melodramatic four thousand word blog post with no line breaks.

Education, and especially the encroachment of private industry into the public sphere, has many problems. This woman is not discussing any of them in a meaningful way.
posted by Mayor West at 8:17 AM on December 11, 2012 [26 favorites]


I don't think you can blame the teachers' unions here. She said that her previous school district had budget issues.

So you're suggesting that they fired every single teacher in the system? Or you're suggesting that all the teachers who kept their jobs were even better than her? Man, Georgia's public school system must be the best educational system in the world!

She was a fairly recent hire who was clearly an outstandingly good teacher: recognized as such by her peers. You really don't have to read between the lines very much to see that if she was let go because of "budget troubles" that means that the sole criterion driving that decision was seniority. (Unless, of course, there is something about her story that she's not telling us.)
posted by yoink at 8:19 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Teacher has inexplicably high opinion of herself based on performance of her previous (whiter, higher SES) students.

Er...her students at her first school were mostly English Language Learners. They don't tend to have high socioeconomic status and they certainly aren't white.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 8:19 AM on December 11, 2012 [32 favorites]


To me, the huge failure of this post is that the author doesn’t really talk about what she tried to do in this NOLA school, or why she was unable to work under the parameters, as ridiculous as they were, or why she took the job that she knew she was unqualified for in the first place.

The principal not sending his children to the school is a red herring. Education aside, putting your two white children into a school where everyone else is Black, and also, you’re the principal’s kid, seems to be to be a recipe for bullying, and I consider myself extremely liberal and extremely desegregationist.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:20 AM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Mayor West: "Teacher has inexplicably high opinion of herself based on performance of her previous (whiter, higher SES) students"

You don't know what an ELL is, do you? Or SEI? No? No. Of course not.
posted by boo_radley at 8:21 AM on December 11, 2012 [27 favorites]


Until there can be a conversation in the United States about public sector revenues, funding cuts will always be th issue. Schools will be closed, programs cut back and fresh new teaching approaches quashed. What rises up to replace them is the private sector. And when the private sector is funded by the underfuended public sector, charter school approaches DON'T actually become a choice. They become the only option.

If these kids in New Orleans had the option of attending a well funded public school or the charter school described in this piece - one in which they would have to use their own money to attend, which do you think they would choose?
posted by salishsea at 8:22 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Recall that New Orleans had failing education system and so the city purposely decided to rid itself of the "old" (ie, union) system and move to CHARTER SCHOOL system.
posted by Postroad at 8:24 AM on December 11, 2012


Mayor West...it was not her job to discuss broad based education reform in the United States. She is just telling her story. The rest of us are doing the bean plating.
posted by salishsea at 8:25 AM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Education is a workplace for teachers, and there's no reason for them not to treat it as such. It's not a mystical calling or religious vocation; it's a job.

True, but incomplete. A job these days is almost always dictated by the bottom line = the profitability of the job to the people that employ you.

This is where the market fundamentalism that underpins so much public policy collides with public service. Do teachers, doctors, police serve everyone for the common good, or do they serve the bottom line? and if so, whose?

One's answer may fall along political lines as ever. Irrespective of one's ideology, it doesn't take a genius to see that something's very very wrong and therefore untenable.

Remember, these children are the future. We'll reap what we sow if we don't teach them properly. I had a great teacher who taught me that. It's one of the reasons I teach today. We deserved better. So do they.
posted by Hickeystudio at 8:25 AM on December 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


You really don't have to read between the lines very much to see that if she was let go because of "budget troubles" that means that the sole criterion driving that decision was seniority.

Or her teachables were in an area that the system had plenty of, all of whom were, if not "brilliant", well regarded at least. Do you really lay off the very good teacher with 25 years in because the brilliant teacher with only 5 in falls below the line?

How come stack ranking in a corporate environment seems obviously flawed, but in an education environment it seems like a needed reform?
posted by fatbird at 8:26 AM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


schmod: Education shouldn't be run like a business, but we can't have a separate set of ethics and rules for teachers and the rest of the workforce.

No -- I'd rather expect teachers to be held to a higher standard.

That road leads to a very dark place.

Please elaborate?

Mayor West: Education, and especially the encroachment of private industry into the public sphere, has many problems. This woman is not discussing any of them in a meaningful way.

Admittedly the writing style isn't terrific, and there is an element of culture clash here, but her description of the regimentation of the school is rather disturbing. It sounds like a horrible place to teach or learn.

roomthreeseventeen: or why she took the job that she knew she was unqualified for in the first place

She explains that very well actually; she had been laid off and had a driven personality, and if you need money and purpose from work, you take the job that is offered.
posted by JHarris at 8:26 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


She explains that very well actually; she had been laid off and had a driven personality, and if you need money and purpose from work, you take the job that is offered.

But if she was so in demand as a teacher, surely she could have waited for a more appropriate job to come along.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:27 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone in this discussion who hasn't been teaching in recent years, probably has no clue as to what the profession is like right now. The writer of that article is pretty clearly describing what I've found to be the environment, to a significant degree, in a LOT of schools right now, especially charter schools, but also, to some extent, in public schools.

Any, anyone who views teaching as just a "job" and a school as a "workplace" has pretty much sold out to the man. Sad....
posted by HuronBob at 8:35 AM on December 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


No, it's not. It's not just a job. Goddamn.

I'm sure you have the best of intentions, but this is an absolutely poisonous attitude that is actively damaging for teachers. At my job, which is just a job, I'm provided all my supplies, I'm not expected to work weekends or nights except in unusual circumstances, never once have I been encouraged or expected to buy things for my clients, and no one questions my commitment to children if I leave at 5:00 (and my job is related to education, a lot of my work does help children).

Teachers, though? All that shit does get dumped on them. (I know because I'm married to a teacher and both my parents are teachers). Once you make the job into something other than a job, you make it an excuse to bleed teachers dry, both financially and emotionally. Leave at dismissal on a Friday or spend less than several hours planning each night? Obviously, you don't care enough. Not willing to spend your own money to decorate your classroom, provide supplies to kids, and pay for their dance tickets, field trip costs, etc.? You really should be doing that, because this isn't a "job" that you're doing for pay, it's a martyrdom exercise.

Education is important, but when you start telling teachers that it's more than a job, you put on them the burden of them to shoulder the economic and social problems of the community and the penny pinching of the government. Treating teaching as a job means unions and protections from abuse; treating teaching as a "not just a job" means putting up with bullshit.

Teaching is a shit job. The hours are terrible, the conditions are frequently atrocious, the pay is bad, and the expectations are high and constantly changing. Telling teachers that their job is more important than a job just legitimatizes that and tells teachers not to complain about it. Fuck that noise.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:40 AM on December 11, 2012 [190 favorites]


I was at a holiday party for work last Saturday, and a coworker/supervisor and her husband (who live in New Orleans now) were there. The husband is native to Louisiana, while the supervisor is originally from Texas.

Anyway, at some point in the conversation, the husband remarked at how surprised he was that his wife had gone to public schools (living in Texas), because in Louisiana, that was a Thing That Was Not Done. And the wife remarked that for their kids growing up in Louisiana, indeed, public school would not be a thing they would experience.

...at the time, I really didn't know how to respond. Like, I didn't have the privilege points to comprehend the statement, and this article just gave me a glimpse. I mean, where I grew up (Lawton, OK), there were folks who talked poorly about public schools, but even among the wealthy, white, conservative folks, they kept their kids in the public school system.
posted by subversiveasset at 8:43 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you really lay off the very good teacher with 25 years in because the brilliant teacher with only 5 in falls below the line?

I, for one, am pleased to hear that the Lake Woebegon Georgia public school system employs absolutely no teacher who is less than "very good." It must be a truly wonderful system.

Look, I'm pro-union and I think that teachers and teachers unions get a lot of BS flung at them and are made scapegoats for much that is going awry with public education in the US that is in no way their fault. But to pretend that the unions are entirely guiltless and that they are doing nothing but defending "very good" teachers is just sticking one's head in the sand.
posted by yoink at 8:45 AM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's becoming more common to put kids in private (usually religious) schools here in Texas too. There's still enough "good" systems that it's not statewide, but give the Republicans time and those will get overwhelmed too. There's a reason we're at the bottom of the national rankings.

I would love for there to be national standards and national funding, because it would be harder for dumbass busybodies to highjack curricula and dump science labs for football uniforms.
posted by emjaybee at 8:48 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Though the essay starts out promisingly -- and the author spares no effort in providing background for why her job in Georgia was so great -- it falls down the rabbit hole of vagueness and melodrama. Suddenly, she's "dying" -- a word that is repeated, with references to a doctor who also uses the word.

Really? She was actually dying? How did she get from health and contentment to that state of affairs? And how did teaching in the school contribute to it?

It would have been a far, far better thing for this woman to have allowed herself the time to recover, and review her experience in New Orleans with more narrative distance.
posted by gsh at 8:48 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe this should be the test: charter school founders have to be willing to send their children/grandchildren, etc into the same program.

Yes, and let's also extend this to politicians/war.
posted by any major dude at 8:53 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder how many commenters have kids in poor city public schools? My daughter is no longer in a public school, and her experience was not that bad. But even in the "great" public schools she went to, there were silent lunches and all-day suspension rooms for kids who wouldn't behave. And now that many of our local city public schools have failed, and been turned into charters, there are supportive articles talking about the regimented environments that the kids are in. Strict uniforms--not even a colored hair clip!, chanting school spirit, non-stop testing and teaching to the test. It's ugly.
posted by bluespark25 at 8:59 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here’s how you can tell, according to my students and their families: my classroom walls and the walls outside my classroom were covered by the best examples of their work so that they could see, daily, that I was proud of them and they should feel pride in their hard work; the walls were also decorated with art and every color in the spectrum; I designed culminating projects to create learning experiences that would help my students connect with and build upon old knowledge, bridging it to new knowledge so that they could apply what they’ve learned – not just memorize it, I created my own tests which included actual short answer and essay questions, and graphic organizers which were visual representations where they could show they were able to think critically about their new knowledge; I sang to them; I read aloud to them from diverse authors like C.S. Lewis, Joel Chandler Harris, Roald Dahl, Virginia Hamilton, and Norton Juster; together we read Maniac Magee, Everything on a Waffle, Money Hungry and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; we made time for creative writing, not state writing test practice writing, but creative writing; they studied famous authors; we diagrammed sentences IN COLOR (which makes all the difference); every student who wanted one could have a job so that they felt that my classroom was really THEIR classroom; independent reading could be done on the carpet next to your desk, underneath the whiteboard with your jacket as your pillow, or at your desk with your head resting on your arm; we played Scrabble on a huge bulletin board in the classroom, me against the kids; I graded their work in a timely way; I took Spanish for Educators for two years so that I could better communicate with parents who did not speak English; I didn’t allow misbehavior, I was lovingly strict; I didn’t accept work that wasn’t a student’s best; we didn’t just move on –we reviewed basic grammar skills over and over and over and yet over again because there could never be enough practice with grammar; I gifted them books; I believed in their future success even if they themselves could not conceive it.

Mechanics: Does not understand usage of semicolons, dashes, and periods. This example is a run on sentence with comma splices. Inappropriate use of ALL CAPS. Incorrect use of parentheticals and idioms (e.g. "conceive it" instead of "conceive of it"). The essay is full of sentence fragments.

Content: No development of ideas within paragraphs, merely a list of facts. Overall essay rambles from point to point. No overarching structure to give a sense of completeness.

Grade: C+, minimum competency expected from a high school graduate.

Yes, I am a professional scorer of language tests.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:03 AM on December 11, 2012 [25 favorites]


When I was a kid in school we used to joke about it being a prison, but shit...even prisoners are allowed to talk during meals.

When I took a tour of San Quentin Prison, my single strongest impression is that it was exactly like a high school, but with guns. That was creepy as hell, let me tell you.
posted by Malor at 9:13 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Suddenly, she's "dying" -- a word that is repeated, with references to a doctor who also uses the word.

Really? She was actually dying?



The article says:

I resigned my teaching position at a New Orleans charter school two months ago because I was dying, metaphorically, and that ailment had begun to take a rapid physical toll as well.

based on the use of METAPHORICALLY I am going to assume that was not a medical diagnosis.
posted by dubold at 9:14 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


My kid's current experience in public school (one of the best in town) mirrors bluespark25's. It's nowhere near as bad as the NOLA charter, but there is a line down the hall that kids aren't allowed to step on, and last year they were forbidden to talk during lunch. If they show up to school early, the get sent to the gym, where they sit in lines, facing forward, forbidden to talk until it's time to go to the classroom. (The one time we got there early, we turned around from the gym and I hung out with my kid for another 10 minutes until he could go to the classroom.) He's been taking computer-based multiple choice tests at least monthly since kindergarten.

If there were a better private school here, I'd send my kid there, but the standards for a private school here are abysmally low: some combination of religious training and/or few students of color. Academically, as long as most graduates can meet the minimum standard for the state university, that's good enough. The local "college prep" school is more concerned with athletics than academics and recently sent out a press release because one of their seniors got a baseball scholarship to a 2-year school in Mississippi.
posted by fogovonslack at 9:15 AM on December 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


It would have been a far, far better thing for this woman to have allowed herself the time to recover, and review her experience in New Orleans with more narrative distance.

You know, there's a place somewhere in the vast, vast Interwubs for emotionally charged responses to horrible situations. There's a place for teachers to say, not "I have examined every school in America and these are the systemic flaws," but "This school is a nightmare situation and it's drained me of all my willpower and joy."

In fact, I want to know these things: I want to know that this isn't just a structural deficiency which teachers groan at and smile and perkily go about working around those annoying flaws, but it's the sort that actively makes teachers loathe themselves and wish they were more powerful.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:16 AM on December 11, 2012 [15 favorites]


I agree--the problem here is the New Orleans charter system, which has become a real shelter for graft and corruption.

What we need is a charter system for the charter system, chartered charter schools to creatively disrupt the corrupt charter system. LIke synthetic CDOs charter charter schools will bring the market discipline of the high-speed finance to privatized private public education and bring down interest rates to help the economy grow.

Now, can I be a Republican governor?
posted by ennui.bz at 9:26 AM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


I agree--the problem here is the New Orleans charter system, which has become a real shelter for graft and corruption. [liketitanic]

Not just in New Orleans, and not just due to corruption. The problems plague charter schools everywhere, and to some degree it's by design.

Consider the vision that Argosy articulates for a charter school in Fall River, MA. The link goes to a blog post that highlights the "silence" aspect of the students' lives, but the whole proposal is linked therein and there are MANY troubling things with it: the regimentation; the way the curriculum is heavily skewed toward "financial literacy" (the inches devoted to it in the tables is telling) while the narrative of the student's day contains something mathematically absurd ("converting fractions to decimals, decimals to fractions, and fractions to ratios"); the way almost all the interactions between the student & her teachers are canned/rehearsed chants, while the sole question she answers in her "own" words reveals knowledge that is at best tenuous; the way none of the students are shown asking questions. Are they not allowed/discouraged to by the strictness if the behavioral code? Has the school unwittingly cultivated a social atmosphere where asking questions is equated with failure? Or are the kids simply not engaged with the material?

Argosy's narrative of a day in the life of a student of their proposed Fall River school reveals a set of educational priorities that are at best impoverished, and at worst counterproductive to producing knowledgable, independent, and critical participants of a democratic & free-market society. They could easily have articulated a vision in which Carolina and her classmates demonstrate not just knowledge, but (to use Bloom's Taxonomy) comprehension, analysis, and synthesis as well. Likewise, if they wanted to highlight the virtues of being well-disciplined, they could have crafted a narrative focusing on Carolina's diligence and studiousness (perhaps she asks for more exercises because she really wants to master fractions; perhaps she asks to speak quietly to help an ESL classmate who is struggling with a reading assignment, or to be excused from recess to stay in the library to work together; &c). However, none of those educational values are depicted. Instead, the virtue that they choose to highlight is obedience, using a narrative that invests more words describing tedious mechanical acts (uniform, bus queuing, lunch trays, paper-passing) than detailing the concepts covered in class or the style of instruction. And this is the proposal -- the ideal which Argosy presents for its charter school!

What the teacher at the New Orleans charter describes isn't an unintentional failure of a charter school gone bad; it is exactly what certain charter schools are designed to be.
posted by Westringia F. at 9:31 AM on December 11, 2012 [17 favorites]


Before we keep blaming the unions for her layoff from her job in Georgia (or not), can I just point out that those of us who are employees of the state of Georgia are forbidden by law from unionizing.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:33 AM on December 11, 2012 [14 favorites]


I love that. Blaming the unions (especially the teachers' unions) is automatic kneejerk, but attention to the small detail that there are actually 23 right-to-work states (24 with Michigan, now) ..... not so much.
posted by blucevalo at 9:39 AM on December 11, 2012


I don't get it how people don't get it.
1. Kids in bad public schools are trapped there.
2. The move to charter schools is trapping more poor students in more failing public schools
3. Teaching is really fucking hard work.
4. Education is absolutely essential.

It is pretty simple. Fund public schools adequately, you moronic fucking morons
posted by angrycat at 9:44 AM on December 11, 2012 [23 favorites]


I don't see anything in this that has anything to do with funding for public schools.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:46 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many commenters have kids in poor city public schools?

None
posted by bookman117 at 9:50 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Charter schools exist because public schools have been neglected horribly, is my understanding of the issue
posted by angrycat at 9:51 AM on December 11, 2012


Consider the vision that Argosy articulates for a charter school in Fall River, MA. The link goes to a blog post that highlights the "silence" aspect of the students' lives, but the whole proposal is linked therein and there are MANY troubling things with it

Oh my fuck. That is TERRIFYING. That is a legitimately frightening article.
7:30 am – The Executive Director, Ms. Pavao, opens the school doors, and warmly and individually greets every student by name. When it’s Carolina’s turn to enter the building, Ms. Pavao welcomes her eagerly. “Good Morning, Carolina! Why are you here today?” “I am here to learn,” Carolina replies. “What will it take?” asks Ms. Pavao. “Determination, Responsibility, Excellence, Ambition, and Maturity,” replies Carolina. “Absolutely,” says Ms. Pavao. “Let’s check your uniform quickly, belt, socks, and shirt tucked. Great…”

Carolina walks to her left to silently join the line of students walking around the perimeter of the room toward the breakfast pick-up table. With breakfast in hand, Carolina continues to walk along the perimeter, just as she had been taught in student Summer Orientation, until she reaches her advisory’s table, clearly identified with a laminated sign that reads “Boston University 5” next to a colorful picture of Rhett, the Boston Terrier, Boston University’s mascot. After 10 minutes, Ms. Pavao, the ED, walks to the center of the room to lead a clapped chant, letting everyone know that it is time for a cheer and some Shout Outs.

“Good morning, Class of 2026!” “We are Argosy Collegiate Scholars. We have the knowledge to go to college. We share our knowledge with others because explaining what we know and justifying our thinking prepares us to transform ourselves, our communities, and the 21st century.” Carolina and the rest of the students and staff repeat the chant in unison. Scholars chant a short burst of encouragement about Responsibility, and scholars immediately return to silence. With a non-verbal cue, a hand gesture, Ms. Pavao directs the students and staff that it is time for silent cleanup. This is the cue for students who have cafeteria clean up jobs this week to wheel large waste cans to the end of each table. Students silently carry their food trays in two single file lines to the end of the table, where there is a separate waste container for solids and liquids. Students wait for additional directions and then gather their belongings to transition to advisory in silent, orderly lines, led by their homeroom/advisory leader.
I read this passage and thought, "This has to be a satire." But nope. That's quoted VERBATIM from the proposal. The actual "Day in the Life" goes on much longer, and gets progressively more fucked-up. This, towards the end, caught my eye:
3:30 pm - Formal classes have ended and the scholars move to dismissal, enrichment, or detention. Since Carolina has completed all of her HW with 70% accuracy or higher, she does not need to go to detention. She will, however, attend FOCUS for 15 minutes to work with Mr. Silvia on long division and then she will use 15 for HW. She especially appreciates this time for tutoring and HW since Carolina babysits her two nieces until their bedtime on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Carolina has a lot of responsibility outside of school in supporting her family, but it energizes Carolina to stay focused on school and college bound goals. Although her life is full of challenge, she finds herself lucky to have learned an early lesson about choices, and she does not make excuses for the hard work and time it takes to be successful at school.
Seriously, what the SHIT.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:53 AM on December 11, 2012 [21 favorites]


It should be noted that that proposed school does not actually exist.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:55 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not yet. But it's being seriously considered.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:59 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


JHarris: "Please elaborate?"

Bulgaroktonos put it far more elegantly than I could have.
posted by schmod at 10:01 AM on December 11, 2012


Charter schools exist because public schools have been neglected horribly, is my understanding of the issue

Charter schools exist because greed.

I briefly attended a charter school in junior high. The school wasn't very large (a couple hundred students) and yet the founder was drawing a >100k salary (this was the early 1990s) and had a non-teaching wife who was on the books for nearly that amount. In school, we mostly sat around all day with well-meaning teachers who had been suckered into the "great experiment" tried to "radically redefine education" by making do without books while the school's top brass went around exporting their "system" to other would-be charter school groups in an attempt to establish themselves as up-and-coming players in the now very lucrative charter school management business.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:11 AM on December 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


Parents were only guaranteed to receive report cards if they came to the school to get them; if work or transportation did not permit them to do so, a parent could very likely never receive one of their child’s report cards for the entire academic year.

WHAT.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:18 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The chanting and constant talk about college and being scholars is de rigueur at DC area charter schools and to a lesser extent in the public schools. I definitely saw a kid who couldn't have been more than five on the metro wearing a charter school's "College bound" shirt. Public and charter schools have pep rallies to psych themselves up for standardized tests, too. My wife's middle school is decorated with flags for various college that sort of makes it look like one of those sports bars that's trying to be a gathering place for six different schools' alumni. It's all well-meaning, but it's pretty creepy and I can't imagine that it accomplishes anything.

I actually don't find the "walk silently in single file lines on marked red stripes" parts creepy at all, but only because the average public school here is so chaotic that there's little chance of establishing control absent enforcing very strict rules like that.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:21 AM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Charter schools exist because greed.

In some cases, maybe. In other cases, like Harlem Success, they exist because the neighborhood schools consistently fail to perform and parents look for something to help their children not fail.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:31 AM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


The chanting and constant talk about college and being scholars is de rigueur at DC area charter schools and to a lesser extent in the public schools. I definitely saw a kid who couldn't have been more than five on the metro wearing a charter school's "College bound" shirt.

I find this fascinating. My father is university educated and my mother was a grade school teacher. I have no memory of a time when I didn't know I was going to university. I was in Grade 1 when I found out a person could be a doctor of something other than medicine and decided then I would become a doctor of something. That remained my goal for 20 years until I discovered I actually kind of hated grad school and dropped out.

But that is totally a question of cultural capital. I knew about PhDs because of a family friend who had one in Math. My parents were both the first people in either of their families to go do post-secondary education, but virtually all of us cousins in the subsequent generation went. There are a lot of graduate degrees. University followed high school as surely as high school followed elementary.

So, this rah rah thing is weird, and the drilling seems useless, but I get the idea of trying to create an atmosphere where going to college is just a thing it is assumed all the kids will do, especially if it isn't a message they are getting in their families and neighbourhoods.
posted by looli at 10:33 AM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


a large enough sample size to be representative of "the state of education in the States."

And what would be a 'large enough' sample size that covers metal detectors, no aspirin, cell phones of 12 year olds in locker rooms, and whatever other things going on in a system set up to provide a workforce for industrialists back in the 1800's and reinforced by the need for a base level of education for the military?
posted by rough ashlar at 10:35 AM on December 11, 2012


Anyway, at some point in the conversation, the husband remarked at how surprised he was that his wife had gone to public schools (living in Texas), because in Louisiana, that was a Thing That Was Not Done. And the wife remarked that for their kids growing up in Louisiana, indeed, public school would not be a thing they would experience.
posted by subversiveasset at 11:43 AM on December 11

There is an institutionalized racism still very prevalent in New Orleans. When you go to a nice restaurant, all the servers are white. The bus boys cleaning the tables are black.

There is a large private school system in New Orleans, mostly Catholic schools. The white kids go to Jesuit or Brother Martin, the black kids went to schools like JFK (shuttered in 2005). At the time, JFK was graffiti sprayed and barbed wire ringed the parking lot. One of the nicest magnet schools with university-like facilities, Ben Franklin, was majority white and less than a quarter of a mile down the road from JFK.

Anyway, here's a bit from a David Foster Wallace interview with Charlie Rose:

ROSE: But I don't think everybody should have to teach, do you?

DFW: I heartily agree with you.

ROSE: Yeah. I mean, I would hope we're getting away from that sort of -- or -- and then, likewise, you hope that you can get away from this notion of "publish or perish," too.

DFW: Yeah. Oh, boy. Don't even get me started on teaching. Teaching, you learn an enormous amount. The cliché turns out to be true. The teacher learns a lot more than the students. You do for about two or three years and then the curve falls off sharply and most -- most of the older teachers that I know, except for a very few geniuses, are extremely bored with teaching and are not very interested in their students and they're going through the motions and it's -- there's a weird schizophrenia about higher education because people are hired to teach and to teach college students who are preparing to enter the field themselves, yet on the other hand, very often they're judged and given or denied tenure based on their own work. And I think administrators believe that the two are compatible. They're really not. They're entirely different. And the more time and energy spent on teaching, which is extraordinarily hard to do well, the less time spent sort of on your own work.
posted by four panels at 10:36 AM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


That school isn't really a prison.

It's a pre-prison-- a Prison Prep, if you will, designed to educate those students for the job they are most likely to be offered, which is to sit in a cell for most of their adult lives and pull down $30-40,000 a year from local, state and federal governments, to be distributed among their various custodians and -- most importantly-- the private corporations who (they are persons, after all) will run the vast prison complexes of our glorious free-enterprise future!
posted by jamjam at 10:36 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


RonButNotStupid:
"Charter schools exist because greed."
Not always. Sometimes they exist to fill in a gap not provided by the local school system. There are magnet schools here in Toledo so charter schools for arts and tech opened to fill those gaps.

Fun story - when the Toledo School for the Arts was proposed to the school board, it was remarked that pigs would fly the day an arts school was successful in Toledo. The school mascot is now the flying pig and it is has been doing very well for years.
posted by charred husk at 10:39 AM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Not to derail the topic, but may I suggest that the reason why she may have been laid off from her post was because she was an ESL teacher? I imagine in budget cuts, the school will trim resources outside of the main curriculum, and perhaps they thought they could integrate ESL students into the regular English classes or something. It's hard to know why exactly she was let go, and many reasons would be outside of her control, so I don't see the point in using her unemployment to argue that she has too high of an opinion of herself.
posted by Conspire at 10:43 AM on December 11, 2012


So, this rah rah thing is weird, and the drilling seems useless, but I get the idea of trying to create an atmosphere where going to college is just a thing it is assumed all the kids will do, especially if it isn't a message they are getting in their families and neighbourhoods.

Certainly, which is why I said it's well-meaning, because it genuinely is, but I doubt it's going to be helpful. Honestly this is more a symptom of trying to run a school system in a community that is far more broken than a school system can fix than it is of any problem with the schools themselves.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:48 AM on December 11, 2012


Er, NO magnet schools. Took more than 5min to notice the typo.
To follow-up, there are MANY other charter schools in Toledo and most of them are doing pretty badly. So don't take my story as full throated support of charters.
posted by charred husk at 10:49 AM on December 11, 2012


roomthreeseventeen: In some cases, maybe. In other cases, like Harlem Success, they exist because the neighborhood schools consistently fail to perform and parents look for something to help their children not fail.

Harlem Success may be doing good work, and at least it's a non-profit, but it has some questionable finances that lead me to suspect that someone might be personally benefiting from it.
The nonprofit organizations connected to the schools have yet to file more recent tax returns, but Moskowitz said in an interview late Thursday she received $310,000 last year - the 2007-2008 year - $250,000 in salary and $60,000 in a bonus.

That means Moskowitz, who is responsible for four schools, makes more than Chancellor Joel Klein, who gets $250,000 to run 1,400 schools.

In 2006-2007, she even surpassed John Ryan, the former chancellor of the State University of New York, who earned $340,000 to manage some 70 campuses with nearly 300,000 students.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 11:04 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


If it's not too late, just to clarify:

Get your corporate bullshit out of my mystic calling.

I find it really odd that the idea that teaching is more than, or different from, just another job or just another workplace has to exist in some kind of binary with the idea of sacrifice to a calling. It doesn't have to be one of the other: dedicated, underpaid and overworked teachers giving their lives to their students on one hand, and on the other the corporate regimentation of teaching as a type of factory overseer position, subject to efficiency testing and product testing and tests overall and student "outcomes". The conversation does not need to be framed this way. The classroom is indeed a workplace, and teachers are workers, hence the need for collective bargaining and unions to advance teachers' interests (which are usually students' interests, as well). But it's an important job. It's one that should have decent social status and attract talented people as a result of that status. It's one that should have a status that expresses a society's valuing of its children and of education in itself, one that recognizes that an educated population is part of the fundamental public good.

The fact that apparently any charlatan can set up a for-profit charter school-- or a school which is, I assume, availing itself of public funds for its management--kind of boggles the mind, or my mind at least. What kind of oversight is there? What voice do the teachers have? And why, when one gifted teacher attempts to bring attention to the killing atmosphere of the place she fled in despair after seven weeks, is she received with a chorus of "Of course it's just that school in particular" (as if the very fact of the existence of such a "school" doesn't prove a systemic problem) and "If she didn't like it, she could get another job" (as if she's producing widgets, and that nothing is at stake, certainly not the lives and minds of her students). Education is too important to be left to profiteers and the private sector; I know it's a cliche to talk about the best school systems in the world (say, Finland) and to point out the reasons for its success, but two of them are worthy of note. The first is that teachers have high status in Finnish society, as high as doctors or lawyers, as the article says, but what it really means is that teachers are seen as skilled professionals, as they should be; and the fact that childhood povery in Finland is very low compared to America, and so children are not as demographically stratified. Reading the original post, I felt like I was seeing something out of the 19th century, with schools for poor children which are no better than prisons, while rich or middle class children actually get an education.
posted by jokeefe at 11:09 AM on December 11, 2012 [20 favorites]


Jane Eyre!
posted by zscore at 11:16 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lots of things wrong with Charter schools to be sure, and I feel sorry for this woman that she's had such a bad (though eye opening, I presume) experience. But the amount of times she goes on about how amazing she is is really quite grating.

I mean this?

I have infinite powers of language, communications, public speaking, and passion beyond measure.

Come on.
posted by modernnomad at 11:17 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, in my first comment I likely should not have said that the classroom is not a workplace. Obviously it is. I was responding to the characterization of her dilemma as this: "We've all had experiences at one point or another where we got hired by a company where we didn't quite fit, right? I think the best solution in that situation is simply to switch to a different company, not to quit that line of work altogether. Particularly when you're very good at it and have enjoyed doing it at different companies." I should have said that the classroom is not a corporate office.
posted by jokeefe at 11:21 AM on December 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


There are some jobs that, if done well, directly help a community thrive, and if done poorly have an adverse effect on the long-term success of that community.

Teaching is one of those jobs; so are law enforcement, first response and health care. These jobs, more than any others, have a direct impact on individuals within the community. Other jobs, such as those in local government, building code enforcement, civil engineering and similar areas, impact the community as a whole through the quality of planning, budgeting, due diligence and key strategic decisions.

You would think, then, that we would value those jobs above all others, and respect those who hold those positions. Unfortunately, we tend to notice it more (as a community) when someone fails in those positions than when they succeed, and then conflate the bad performance of some with those employed as a whole. And so we think all policemen are corrupt, all teachers are disinterested, all government-employed civil servants are lazy, and so on.

As a result, we don't vote the right people into office, we don't fund the payrolls for hiring best people into these jobs, and we reap what we sow: a community run by the wrong people, hiring only those teachers we're willing to pay for, protected by the corrupt who care more about wielding power than about making top dollar, and so becomes a cycle that drives community standards lower and lower.

Of course, there are amazing people that can fill these jobs: they simply take higher-paying jobs and move to a community with people like themselves, and pay for private school and private health care and private this and private that; spending lots of money to help themselves rather than spending the same amount of money to help everybody in their community. That, or they take the low-paying jobs and push against the inertia of the community system that they're operating within, and eventually give up or move on or, sometimes, do an amazing job and receive little credit and little notice in their community.

Which isn't the cheeriest thought I could have had today, I suppose, but we really have nobody to blame but ourselves.
posted by davejay at 11:57 AM on December 11, 2012 [19 favorites]


>...but we really have nobody to blame but ourselves.

That's not really fair. Virtually everything wrong with the world today can lead any given person to saying "If only I had done more..." In retrospect, maybe it should.

But you're right about the interconnectedness of it all. I would take it a step further and say one rotten apple spoils the bunch. For example, voting the wrong person into office--assuming it wasn't already a corrupted election or the lesser of two evils--opens the floodgates for actions and decisions that send the community into a downward spiral of quality.

I feel like that's what happened with the influx of New Orleans charter schools. Thanks to a lack of adequate funding and civil respect, public education is failing in a lot of places. No parent wants that, so when the alternative of a charter school offers a bright and shining future, they jump on it. But it's really an excellent bait-and-switch in the cases where these schools are run for the profit of a few people at the top at the expense or exploitation of all the dreams and expectations of the people beneath them.

It's pretty sickening to think about how much of this is intentional, creating generations of prison-ready anti-educated populations in (surprise, surprise) the poorest areas with the highest concentration of ethnic minorities like D.C. and New Orleans. The problem is absolutely systematic. Maybe the entire system isn't affected by it, but there is certainly a method to the madness and destruction.

Of course things fail when you don't give them a chance to succeed.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 12:24 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


we really have nobody to blame but ourselves.

I don't know, virtually everyone who participates in some kind of debate or discussion about education is someone who has had a good education (and has thus not personally been failed by our horrible system). I don't think it's quite that simple.
posted by leopard at 12:34 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am planning to be an English teacher in the very near future. I don't know if I want to read this.
posted by zardoz at 1:06 PM on December 11, 2012


we really have nobody to blame but ourselves.

I should clarify: I mean everyone. Like, not us folks discussing it, but inclusive of us folks discussing it. As individuals, we make rational choices that serve us, and sometimes we make altruistic choices that serve others, but as a group we collectively make rational choices that serve us more often than altruistic choices that serve others -- Mother Theresa et al notwithstanding -- and so over time we get what we've made available to ourselves.

It seems to be a natural side-effect of community size, and people belonging to more than one community. Consider a small town, newly formed in a frontier: there will be a strong sense of community, a sense that doing the right thing for the community is also doing the right thing for each individual, and so often (not always) the right things will get done. There's also an isolation factor, where in a small town on the frontier, there's only one community to belong to.

Over time, the community grows, and so factions appear; over time, the community merges with other communities, and so the population divides on what's best for the community; over time, members commute between communities, and travel through them, and this mobility allows for a person to belong to several communities at once, and interact daily with members of the same communities that themselves have other alliances.

As this happens, the equivalence between "best for us (community)" and "best for us (individual)" drifts and quite possibility disappears from view, and individuals resort to the "best" that they can see most clearly: their own. Totally rational, but also counterproductive.

When we see someone acting in complete opposition to what's best for the community, it is easy to get angry and frustrated, but the truth is even we can't see what's best for the community. It is only in the most egregious examples that we can see it clearly, see the greed and the self-involvement, but that's just because it is extreme. Case in point: I don't put my garbage cans out early, because I don't want people picking through my garbage. Am I helping the community by discouraging transient garbage pickers? Am I hurting the community by denying poor members of the community an opportunity to extract value from my garbage? It can be challenging to tell.

Perhaps we have nothing to blame but our own myopia, or perhaps there simply is no blame, because everyone's rationally acting in their own self-interest. I really don't know. So yeah, it really isn't that simple. Regardless, it doesn't come from the environment, it comes from us as a species, organized the way we organize, so we might as well start by looking at "us".
posted by davejay at 1:37 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


But the whole problem in education is that we don't just live in one big community. We live in lots of smaller, often segregated, communities. I live in a university town populated by rich people and professors, there are phenomenal public and private schools here. Poor people come into town to clean people's houses and lawns and nanny their babies, I am pretty sure their kids go to much worse schools.
posted by leopard at 2:04 PM on December 11, 2012


Wait, but what does she do for a job now? I would love to quit my job for philosophical and self-actualizing reasons, but unfortunately I need the money. Sad face. Also a teacher.
posted by bquarters at 2:24 PM on December 11, 2012


I went to a public school in a small, affluent college town. I'd say I won the lottery but actually my parents moved there for that specific reason. My dad taught in Portland OR public schools and had a rough experience.

In my current teaching gig, I see quite a few kids from West Philly. Some of them are so illiterate I want to find some adult, just one adult responsible for their illiteracy and full-on punch them.

What we are doing with this segregation of good schools/bad schools should be criminal.
posted by angrycat at 2:28 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some of them are so illiterate I want to find some adult, just one adult responsible for their illiteracy and full-on punch them

That's what makes everything so complicated- there never is JUST ONE adult responsible for their illiteracy. Is it their reading teaching with 30 students with many behavioral disorders and 45 minute periods? Is it their parent working nightshift and not home to supervise homework? Is it their aunt who should have noticed but has her hands full with her own kids and jobs?

If there was only ever one person to punch (per student, even), the problems would be so much easier to solve. Read Jonathan Kozol's Shame of the Nation- pretty much sums up the situation, especially in NYC.

/worked in underserved public school for 10 years...maybe I should be punched?

Also...I find so many of these 'champion' teachers don't last more than 2-5 years and then leave anyway, so basically she is right on schedule. It's not really that dramatic. You get worn out. Often if you have choices and options you leave, if you don't, you stay and become even more worn down. Her story is really not that surprising or even particularly insightful or interesting.
posted by bquarters at 2:38 PM on December 11, 2012


Bulgaroktonos: “Teaching is a shit job. The hours are terrible, the conditions are frequently atrocious, the pay is bad, and the expectations are high and constantly changing. Telling teachers that their job is more important than a job just legitimatizes that and tells teachers not to complain about it.”

I just wanted to chime in and say: no, it doesn't. That doesn't follow rationally at all. If it did, then this would be true of every single vocation, and we could say that none of them are really exceptionally important. I've been close friends with teachers and doctors; both struggle with this issue. The fact is that their jobs are more important than "just jobs." That is absolutely not a justification for overworking themselves or dragging themselves through the gutter for it; quite the opposite.

If a teacher (or a doctor, or a lawyer, or any person in an important profession) finds themselves overworking to the point of self-abuse, the solution is not for them to tell themselves: "this isn't really important, so I shouldn't be working so much." That would be lying to themselves, and if they're intelligent, they'll know it. The solution is for them to tell themselves: "what I'm doing is good, but I need to take care of myself in order to keep doing it."

In other words, to go back to your first comment here:

“It's not a mystical calling or religious vocation; it's a job.”

Mystical callings and religious vocations are jobs, too.

I get the feeling what you mean is something like – everybody needs and deserves to be paid for their work, and also needs and deserves the self-respect required to take care of themselves in addition to doing their jobs. I agree completely. Where I disagree is where you say that teaching isn't a more important job than others, and imply that saying it is important puts a greater burden on teachers. It might make it more tempting for teachers to overexert themselves; but that temptation is no less dangerous just because teaching is important.
posted by koeselitz at 2:42 PM on December 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


We've all had experiences at one point or another where we got hired by a company where we didn't quite fit, right? I think the best solution in that situation is simply to switch to a different company, not to quit that line of work...

I bet a lot of those kids just "don't fit the corporate system" at that school, but they can't just switch.
posted by 445supermag at 3:11 PM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I just wanted to chime in and say: no, it doesn't. That doesn't follow rationally at all. If it did, then this would be true of every single vocation, and we could say that none of them are really exceptionally important. I've been close friends with teachers and doctors; both struggle with this issue. The fact is that their jobs are more important than "just jobs." That is absolutely not a justification for overworking themselves or dragging themselves through the gutter for it; quite the opposite.

If a teacher (or a doctor, or a lawyer, or any person in an important profession) finds themselves overworking to the point of self-abuse, the solution is not for them to tell themselves: "this isn't really important, so I shouldn't be working so much." That would be lying to themselves, and if they're intelligent, they'll know it. The solution is for them to tell themselves: "what I'm doing is good, but I need to take care of myself in order to keep doing it."


First of all, I should say that I'm not talking about what teachers tell themselves, I am very talking about what people (sometimes other teachers, sometimes principals and other educational administrators) tell teachers. If you think it's wrong that you have to spend $1000 out of your pocket to decorate a classroom (just to keep it up to standards imposed by other people, by the way) you will be quite literally have how much you care about children questioned. Part of that questioning will take the form "this isn't just a job, we don't do this for the money, we do this because we care about kids and want to change the world...so why are you complaining about this." It is directly connected to the "more than a job" ethos.

I would also say that you can talk all you want about what teachers should do instead of working themselves to the point self-abuse, but the fact of the matter is that some school systems barely give them the option; it's either work yourself until you burn out or we'll fire you. That's not the case everywhere, but I don't think it's uncommon. Taking care of yourself first means leaving the profession, which teachers do in droves (almost half of new teachers are out of the profession in five years).

Secondly, I never said it wasn't a "more important" job that's either something you misread or misinterpreted. It is plainly more important than others. I said it was not "more than a job," the difference is that as long as we treat it as a job, then things like pay and working conditions matter. When we stop treating it as a job and start treating it as a something more important, we absolutely legitimize ignoring job related concerns.

Finally, whether it connects rationally for you or not, I absolutely think the two are connected in the real world. Anti-teacher union propaganda is frequently connected to the idea that teachers demanding decent wages or working conditions don't care enough about kids; we don't do that when everyone understands that your job is a job and not more than that. You've identified two other professions (doctor and lawyer) that have a similar ethos, and have very similar problems (at least in terms of overwork), which I think is pretty strong evidence for a connection.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:45 PM on December 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


It is pretty simple. Fund public schools adequately, you moronic fucking morons

No, it isn't simple, because we already do that. Our spending, per pupil, is about the same percentage of our GDP as most European countries, which get almost uniformly better results than we do. Indeed, some of our worst-performing schools are some of our best funded. The DC school district is an absolute fucking disaster area, and it's got the one of the highest per-pupil spending levels in the nation: over $18,000 per pupil!

Throwing money at this problem will not make it go away. We already spend enough money on education, we're just apparently Doing It Wrong.

Of course, Europe also has a social safety net which isn't spent almost entirely on old people either. Our three largest programs--Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid--are mostly on the elderly. The first two almost exclusively--though disability is a growing part of the former--but even the latter is still a majority, as it's an enormous source of nursing home fees.

So actually, it is kind of "simple." It only takes an enormous restructuring of multi-hundred-billion-dollar programs that are political third rails. Maybe then we'd be able to get some services to families at or near poverty so that their kids wouldn't be so fucked up that they'd do poorly almost wherever they went to school.
posted by valkyryn at 3:46 PM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Part of that questioning will take the form "this isn't just a job, we don't do this for the money...
Firefighters get that too. Which is why a lot of them work side jobs. It's weird to hear people (elsewhere) say that constant training and improving technique is a waste of time/taxpayer dollars. Seems part and parcel with the attitude towards/around teachers.

Reminds me of Plautus (in Bacchides), this kid, Pistoclerus gets upset at being pushed to excel by his teacher and to remind him that he is a servant Pistoclerus says: "Look here, am I your slave or are you mine?"
posted by Smedleyman at 3:58 PM on December 11, 2012


thailand has us beat tho
posted by angrycat at 4:25 PM on December 11, 2012


So actually, it is kind of "simple." It only takes an enormous restructuring of multi-hundred-billion-dollar programs that are political third rails. Maybe then we'd be able to get some services to families at or near poverty so that their kids wouldn't be so fucked up that they'd do poorly almost wherever they went to school.

You're right to point out that a huge part of the problem is the lack of a sufficient safety net for children and their families, but you're being very disingenuous to suggest that the social safety net is a zero sum game. Why can't we let the elderly keep their programs and raise additional revenue through taxes to provide additional social programs for the young?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:45 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


We already spend enough money on education, we're just apparently Doing It Wrong.

It's fair to say that we're both Doing It Wrong AND not spending enough money on education.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:54 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why can't we let the elderly keep their programs and raise additional revenue through taxes to provide additional social programs for the young?

Because then there really wouldn't be enough money. We'd need to basically double our revenue, and there's not enough play in the economy to do that. It may not be precisely a zero sum game, but that doesn't mean we can do anything we like either.
posted by valkyryn at 5:09 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I worked in an urban public school once, pre-charter schools. I quit three days after the kids started, because it was clearly institutionalized child abuse. I had a stack of curriculum guides a yard high that everyone ignored, a required reading curriculum that was absolute nonsense, and 33 fourth graders in my classroom, some of whom had repeated more than once. Also, no copier. And instructions to call security if we had problems.

I've been teaching twenty years in an elite private school since then, and it is a hard job (yeah, it's a calling, it's a profession, but it also is grueling and stays that way all the way through the career) that has never gotten easier, but I love it. I get paid relatively well, though not as well as if I were in one of the local public schools with my master's and Ph.D.. I work in pleasant conditions. We don't have nearly the safety net of support and assistance they have in the suburban public schools, so there are times we are making it up as we go along, but we don't have to do the test prep and other hokum they have to do in the public schools.

All our students, rich or poor go to college. Why are they so successful? Partly because we can afford to pick and choose when we're hiring and have a wonderful, dedicated faculty.

But largely because their parents have money, power, and/or access to support.
posted by Peach at 5:15 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


charlie don't surf: Grade: C+, minimum competency expected from a high school graduate.

I'm a Canadian high school English teacher and, since I can't really comprehend the issues at play in the American educational milieu (malaise?), I'd like to sound off on a related issue that charlie don't surf raises indirectly. Teachers are always teachers, and they should always write at a level that is higher than a high school graduate, and if they can't they should have the sense not to write for public consumption. I wince every time one of my sincere, well-meaning fellow educators write so poorly that they lower the bar for what is generally considered "competent enough to teach" in a discipline. I wince harder when that fellow teacher works with elementary age kids, because no matter how well-meaning and hard-working you are, kids are learning from you because they're watching how well you read and write and add and multiply and divide and observe and so on. And if you don't provide them with a good model for all of these skill-sets, kids learn to be satisfied with mediocrity themselves.

I know this is a derail, but the quality of the practitioners in the profession has everything to do with the quality of the output of the profession, and from my experience up here in Canada there are too many people in my profession who fit the unfortunate "those who can't do, teach" adage. If the standards for teacher competence in a discipline were held as high as they are in other professions - medicine, engineering, law, etc. - then we'd know that society understood the importance of education, and we'd also know that we'd have to pay them well enough to keep them there, and continue to entice high caliber people to do this work.
posted by kneecapped at 6:59 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Teachers are always teachers, and they should always write at a level that is higher than a high school graduate, and if they can't they should have the sense not to write for public consumption.

She's writing about her feels on tumblr. It's not a professional journal or The New York Times or even a standardized exam where dashes and CAPSLOCK would be inappropriate.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:28 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Grade: C+, minimum competency expected from a high school graduate.

Yes, I am a professional scorer of language tests.
posted by charlie don't surf


C, excessive prescriptivism. A nice evaluator might add a word of encouragement. As a professional scorer of language tests, is your scoring-work subject to student evaluation?
posted by ovvl at 8:46 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


C, excessive prescriptivism. A nice evaluator might add a word of encouragement. As a professional scorer of language tests, is your scoring-work subject to student evaluation?

Scoring produces a measurement. You're talking about grading. There is a huge difference between scoring and grading. Grading is done by the student's instructor as ongoing, continuous guidance. We do scoring, not grading. We have no way to provide any written feedback, we just click some numbers to provide a score.

My scoring work is continuously compared to the work of other scorers. Most tests are "100% second scored" which means every test is scored twice, and if there is a disagreement on the score, a supervisor decides which score is correct. The scoring statistics are measured and usually updated every 15 minutes on our computer screen, and are evaluated by professional educators and testing experts, and accessible in real time by the Board of Education that set the standards.

Yes, it can be very prescriptive. That is how rubric-based scoring works. Let me cite from the 6th Grade English Language Arts Core Georgia Performance Standards.

Conventions of Standard English
ELACC6L1: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
a. Ensure that pronouns are in the proper case (subjective, objective, possessive).
b. Use intensive pronouns (e.g., myself, ourselves).
c. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in pronoun number and person.
d. Recognize and correct vague pronouns (i.e., ones with unclear or ambiguous antecedents).
e. Recognize variations from standard English in their own and others' writing and speaking, and identify and use strategies to improve expression in conventional language.
ELACC6L2: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
a. Use punctuation (commas, parentheses, dashes) to set off nonrestrictive/parenthetical elements.
b. Spell correctly.


This is just the rubric, an outline of the standards. The full standard can be very detailed. 11 year old kids are expected to demonstrate their proficiency with these skills under pressure, on the spot, extemporaneously, with no advance preparation. They are given test questions, some paper and a pencil, and are expected to write for 30 to 60 minutes, with no chance for revisions or a second draft.

This woman had a computer with a spell checker, could write at length, at her leisure, and could make as many revisions as she wanted. And she still could not demonstrate proficiency with skills that are expected of her 11 year old students.

And that was just conventions (grammar, spelling, and punctuation). Let's look at just a few of the content standards.

Text Types and Purposes
ELACC6W1: Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
a. Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly.
b. Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.
c. Use words, phrases, and clauses to clarify the relationships among claim(s) and reasons.
d. Establish and maintain a formal style.
e. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the argument presented.
ELACC6W2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
a. Introduce a topic; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
b. Develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.
c. Use appropriate transitions to clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.
d. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
e. Establish and maintain a formal style.
f. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the information or explanation presented.
ELACC6W3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
a. Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
b. Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
c. Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence and signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another.
d. Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.
e. Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.
Production and Distribution of Writing
ELACC6W4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


It is difficult to describe how we do "holistic scoring." We are given writing examples from students that are chosen as examples of each score point, and study them extensively to see how they compare to the standards. No single factor will determine a score, but some factors are weighted very heavily. One standard where this teacher performs very poorly, "Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences." This essay is overburdened with descriptive details that don't develop into arguments. The time line careens back and forth between the past and present, with almost no structure of the sequence of events. But worst of all, this essay shows classic structure of the "five paragraph essay" (albeit expanded massively beyond 5 grafs). This is the sort of writing structure we see from teachers that "teach to the test," which she claims she is not doing. It is formulaic and uninventive, to the point where she repeats her introductory statement almost word-for-word as the conclusion. Perhaps this is how she learned writing when she was in elementary school, and has not developed writing proficiency beyond that level.

This is what we would categorize as a "persuasive essay," but I can't figure out what position she is advocating, other than trying to convince me that she is a "brilliant English teacher." I am quite convinced of the opposite, she clearly demonstrated that she is incapable of performing her duties to the required standards and she resigned for that reason. She claims that her students had passing test rates of between 83 and 100%. The passing standard for Language Arts tests is actually very low, you must perform abysmally to fail. Our nickname for a failed test paper is a "train wreck." Most tests have a failure rate of 5-10% and only about 5-10% get the highest grade.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:54 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


She's blogging. C'mon. Sentence fragments, all caps, etc., are common features of an informal writing style; we see them on Metafilter all the time. There's no reason why an English teacher shouldn't be able to dash off a messy, emotive rant every so often, any more than a professional chef shouldn't be able to make a giant falling-apart burrito on his day off.
posted by ostro at 10:45 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


That essay wasn't the least bit informal. It was a tirade of 3097 words, her manifesto. She claims to have a Masters degree in Secondary English Education, but I frequently see better writing from high school kids on the extemporaneous essays I score. Why do you think I scored her essay by the rules I apply to 11 year old kids? Perhaps I am expecting too much from a highly educated English teacher. She clearly demonstrates her ability to bludgeon a sentence to death, but I would prefer her to demonstrate she could bring it life.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:33 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


for some reason people prefer informality when they're on their own

even when they know how to do things 'the right way'

kind of like how i own a fancy weddings and funerals suit but am currently naked

tumblr is the equivalent of naked people who own fancy suits

this is not hard
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:45 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


The rules of language serve to enhance communication by increasing comprehension. These rules are, and absolutely should be, ignored if doing so improves the ability of the writer to communicate with the reader. Not only do the words pass information to the reader, but also the style. If you restrict the style to the formal, the only thing passed to the reader will be that you are taking a writing test.
posted by 445supermag at 7:52 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


kind of like how i own a fancy weddings and funerals suit but am currently naked

tumblr is the equivalent of naked people who own fancy suits

this is not hard


I'm not sure how this is contributing meaningfully to the discussion.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:23 AM on December 12, 2012


ostro: "She's blogging. C'mon. Sentence fragments, all caps, etc., are common features of an informal writing style; we see them on Metafilter all the time. There's no reason why an English teacher shouldn't be able to dash off a messy, emotive rant every so often, any more than a professional chef shouldn't be able to make a giant falling-apart burrito on his day off."

That depends. Is the chef serving handing out giant falling-apart burritos on the street with his name attached to them?

Reputation matters in almost every career, and if the chef was handing out terrible food with his name attached, we'd be correct to judge him on it, and his employers would certainly be within their moral and legal rights to fire him.

It's fine for the plumber to have a leaky faucet in his house, but it's probably not a good idea for him to brag about it on a plumbing blog. More egregiously, it would be astonishingly unacceptable for doctors or lawyers to dole out bad medical/legal advice outside of their day jobs, even if they were performing those jobs competently.

If you're going to write about being an English teacher, you should sure as hell take the time to use good grammar when you write something for a public audience.

But, for the record, I hate those holistic scoring rubrics. They attempt to place a mask of objectivity on a task that is inherently subjective.
posted by schmod at 8:29 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am also an English teacher, and I know enough about the language to know that most grammar cops are just plain dead wrong. It is an ongoing amusement of mine to notice the frequent grammatical errors in the sentences of those who criticize the writing of others. Usage varies, even in formal settings. I often direct people to Language Log rather than argue with them, however.

In addition, attacking the original blogger's English is missing the point. In fact, attacking people's grammar generally is a deliberate way of missing the point of what they're saying, just as criticizing someone's clothes is not a good way of addressing their political beliefs.
posted by Peach at 8:36 AM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure how this is contributing meaningfully to the discussion.

Well, those three lines rhetorically underscored my first two, to form an argument about the virtues of informality using an informal technique. Quite a formal exercise really. But you're just mad because I called your stupid deleted Battle Royale comment stupid.

I find charlie don't surf's comments here rather disingenuous – kind of a reinforcement of the themes which the original blogger brought up in her post. Beyond Charlie, MetaFilter has a problem with bloggers – especially women bloggers – whose writing styles defy traditional prescriptivist writing rubrics. See the recent this is the gayest of all the possible things shitstorm, or last year's even-worse 15 YEARS IS BIG METAL CHICKENS.

More generally, the English written word is undergoing a pretty drastic change in some places, and entire communities are forming around a writing style which utterly defies that stupid "how 11 year olds should write" rubric. You can draw a direct connection from Jack Kerouac's writing style in On the Road, which was famously sneered at for being "typing, not writing" due to its longwinded, rambling format, to the increasingly-common blogging approach which is rhythmic and loquacious and defies, in many ways, the traditional rules of composition. This form of writing is typified by its reliance on tone to usher a reader in and set a mood, and by its willingness to move about from place to place without a pattern in mind until it finally hits enough points that it feels complete and "whole", at which point it's done, and its composition is always somewhat unusual.

This style of writing has been around long enough that we have some idea of what makes it "well-done" or "not so well-done" – in general, following the basic metric of "is this easy/enjoyable to read or is it frustrating and inaccessible?". I don't think this linked post is a particularly brilliant piece of writing, nothing as good as the two I linked above, but it was heartfelt and intimate and I was grateful for the opportunity to read it.

However, much of the critical response here was less "this didn't do much for me" and more "this is objectively bad, therefore this woman is a bad teacher/a narcissist/incompetent and I find this entire piece of writing invalid". It's a disrespectful, condescending approach to this discussion that adds very little of use to anybody, and it makes me distinctly uncomfortable. It's a tone argument – saying that this woman is writing incorrectly, and therefore her thoughts are invalid, would be a shitty argument to make even if there wasn't the side issue that her style here is not the formalist sort Charlie and kin seem to insist is so necessary.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:02 AM on December 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


Reputation matters in almost every career, and if the chef was handing out terrible food with his name attached, we'd be correct to judge him on it, and his employers would certainly be within their moral and legal rights to fire him.

Really? I don't think so at all, especially when the finished product is not objectively "terrible" (many people in this thread seem to have enjoyed the essay quite a bit) but just at a much lower level of formality. In fact, this exact scenario happens all the time and nobody ever seems to get fired.

More egregiously, it would be astonishingly unacceptable for doctors or lawyers to dole out bad medical/legal advice outside of their day jobs, even if they were performing those jobs competently.

That's not because of some risk to the doctor's reputation, it's because bad medical or legal advice can get you killed or imprisoned, which are risks you don't run reading an essay of any quality.

She claims to have a Masters degree in Secondary English Education

I interpreted this fact to mean that she could, if she wanted to (for example, if she wasn't on Tumblr) produce writing with standard-length sentences and no all caps. Anyhow, length and subject matter don't dictate the formality level of someone's writing, and it makes no sense at all to judge someone writing on Tumblr with a set of standards that includes "d. Establish and maintain a formal style."
posted by ostro at 10:20 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Peach: "In addition, attacking the original blogger's English is missing the point. In fact, attacking people's grammar generally is a deliberate way of missing the point of what they're saying, just as criticizing someone's clothes is not a good way of addressing their political beliefs."

In general, yes, this is true.

When the author's point is "I am a good English teacher," it's one of those rare exceptions where the author's writing abilities are indicative of the overall validity of the piece.
posted by schmod at 10:30 AM on December 12, 2012


Teachers have life as well.
posted by Akidwithgreatambition.org at 10:58 AM on December 12, 2012


I feel about many of the reactions to this article the way I would feel if someone read Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" and said "This is about ONE meat-packing plant, not the entire industry! What a drama queen."
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:59 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


schmod - Dang, honey, I better not let you read my blog . . . or my novels. RIFE with idiosyncratic and/or idiomatic phrasings, not to mention fragments and deliberate elisions. Yet here I am, an English teacher, helping my students distinguish between the verb of a sentence and the various verbals. I hang my head in shame. Yet they've been letting me do it a while. And when I submitted the manuscripts of my novels, the publisher was astounded to find that I had made no errors needing correction.

True story: When I was department chair (up until last year) in my Very Distinguished School, I used to have to proofread the report card comments written by my high school colleagues in the department, all of whom have more English background than I ever hope to have and all of whom could write beautifully. I found plenty of errors, believe me, including dangling modifiers and incorrect capitalization. People make mistakes when they write, even people who are highly trained, fluent writers. That's why we have proofreaders. Who, I hasten to add, don't get paid any better than most writers do . . . or most teachers.
posted by Peach at 12:36 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Scoring produces a measurement. You're talking about grading...

I stand corrected on this point. You make a thorough argument. An A. I think it is a bit on the tough-love side of the equation.

But that's cool. In a perfect world, education is a balanced combination of encouraging teachers and tough teachers (and, um, administrators). I read a nice summary of this concept on AskMefi ages ago, and the point is that there should really be no single unified concept/rule of pedagogy, but combinations of pedagogic styles for a comprehensive education.

(The excessive sway of Forced Standardized Testing in Ontario in the 1990's coerced teachers to slog by the book, and do that dry rote teach to the test. This policy was implemented by The Minister of Education for the Province of Ontario at the time, who had not graduated from high school).
posted by ovvl at 6:25 PM on December 12, 2012


Right, ovvl, it's just a single point of measurement. But some school systems use it as the terminal point, you must pass a standardized test in order to graduate. I have long argued that if you implement performance standards, people will put all their effort into looking good on paper, rather than actually being good. Schools that put their effort into improving test scores are on a fool's errand. Scores are a byproduct of the educational process. You can't teach to the test to improve performance, you have to actually educate the students and teach them to perform better.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:57 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


But the whole problem in education is that we don't just live in one big community. We live in lots of smaller, often segregated, communities. I live in a university town populated by rich people and professors, there are phenomenal public and private schools here. Poor people come into town to clean people's houses and lawns and nanny their babies, I am pretty sure their kids go to much worse schools.

Yeah, that's what I'm saying. The people who belong to one fixed community, they get the good schools, even public...but the people who belong to more than one community, they get the bad schools. It's absolutely about money, but also about transience and institutions. A college town creates an amazingly cohesive community by today's standards, much like churches used to do once upon a time.
posted by davejay at 8:51 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Came in here after reading the article to talk about systemic failures of the American educational system, but apparently this is no longer the thread for that (or at least that is the topic in only a very tangential fashion).
posted by codacorolla at 8:19 AM on December 13, 2012


Now it is the thread of generalized anger
posted by angrycat at 8:32 AM on December 13, 2012


I thought that this article from 2011 about Teach for America was an interesting counterpoint to the FPP.
posted by codacorolla at 9:29 AM on December 13, 2012


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