updates for 12.24.2011
I don't know when this site became such a hotbed for charter hate, but I'm getting irritated enough at general ignorance that I'm going to have to write some things I'll probably regret later.
If you've been reading my blog long enough, you'll remember the days when I was a bona-fide Charter Hater. You'll remember I only took my current job because I wanted to move to Denver and a charter with a surprise opening was the only math job still hiring, and you might remember all the nasty things I wrote about charters before I deleted that post.
If you're my current boss, you'll remember the 45 minutes you spent with me on the phone last spring, convincing me that my charter criticisms were unfounded and that it wouldn't hurt me to come see for myself.
If you are one of my college or grad school professors, you'll remember the days I used to write epic anti-charter papers, listing the reasons they promote inequality. If you were in my classes, you'll remember the day I startled everyone by confidently pronouncing that we should have 100% of kids in public schools, and how I didn't support even the existence of private schools or charters. From where I sit now, I can see my Diane Ravitch collection on my bookshelf, beckoning me back.To be clear, most of my views have not changed. I still believe it's wrong to expel any student, with the exception only being for students who pose an extreme threat of violence. I still believe that any sort of special application process makes a school's population inherently better off than a school without an application process would be. I still believe that plenty of charters do disgustingly inappropriate things to make their numbers look better. I still believe that retaining students in the same grade is only good for a school's graduation statistics and is not good for children. I still believe that schools should rarely be shut down, and should never be shut down based solely on test scores. I still believe that there are plenty of fantastic things happening in public schools and plenty of terrible things happening in charters. But what I've stopped believing is that everything is black and white. Like I've always known there were bad things happening in some public schools, I'm now willing to allow that there are great things happening in some charters. I've realized that education is not a Disney movie, and we don't have to have Good Guy verses a Bad Guy all the time. There is nuance in these arguments, and it's okay to admit to both problems and possibilities. I have also realized that every charter school is different, even those under the same network name in the same city. There is no such thing as "what charters do" just like there is no such thing as "what public schools do". At my charter, we automatically accept every fifth grader from the neighborhood school, which is being shut down. Only two of those kids didn't come, and it takes more work to opt out of our school and find somewhere else to go than to just show up here. I'll admit that there'd still be the application-bias problem for the other seats at my school, but Denver switched its process this year so that EVERY SINGLE FIFTH GRADER enters THE SAME LOTTERY for ALL SCHOOLS (public, charter, magnet) and DPS places kids into the schools they preference randomly. There's no way to game the system, jump through hoops, or hold a million wait-list spots to get the best school. Active parents are furious because they've lost their advantage. You're just as likely to place into my charter by preferencing it through dumb luck as through months of research. We also have not yet expelled a child. Even the kids who beat up an adult and locked him in a closet last year are still here, and they're doing wonderfully. If a child meets Denver Public School's criteria for expulsion, we are required to forward the information to them and let them decide whether the kid should be expelled, but it's the exact same process and criteria that every other DPS school uses. While I still have issues with my charter and with my charter network, those were my two loudest complaints before I took my job, and it turns out they don't even apply here. I was wrong, and I'm ready to admit it publicly here. So I'm just asking that everyone stops and thinks before they jump on the anti-charter bandwagon. Admit that there are good things about some charters just like there are bad things about some public schools. Realize that some great things are happening in some charter classrooms, and sometimes they're actually being caused by great teachers and not just by the Charter-ness of the school. (Relax and re-read, because I was careful to include the word "some" three times in that last sentence so you wouldn't have a hissy fit.) At least consider that innovation at some charters might be contributing some valuable things to the education landscape. And for goodness sake, allow me to say that the process of widespread collaboration and idea-sharing is a good thing without hyperventilating because you think I just wrote a blank check for the Charter Takeover. Thanks. If you still want to debate, I'm always up for it here or at mathinaz @ ymail . com . But if you still just want to make this a blind Us Versus Them fight, I reserve the right to go into a rage of irritation at you. I'm really over that whole thing now.
As I pack my things for my Christmas trip home to Minnesota to visit my wonderful family and friends, I can't help but pause and be thankful for everything I have been given. Among those blessings, I count Detroit and my Teach for America experience. I no way do I doubt that these last 18 months have made me stronger in many ways. In 18 short months, so much about me, my beliefs, and my lifestyle has changed. Maybe it's because I'm getting Ior because my experience, but I am more thankful than ever before for the amazing people God has blessed me with. Whether it is my wonderful family and friends back in Minnesota or my inspiring friends, colleagues, and students here in Detroit, each and every person has helped me become to person I am today, and I am so very thankful for that. The last couple of weeks flew by - I think both the kids and teachers were eagerly awaiting Christmas break. We've started to push our Juniors hard - the ACT/MME is only 40(ish) school days away, so that is completely occupying my time. I still completely love what I do - although it is early, I awake energize each day, hoping to teach my students just as much as they will teach me. I'm looking forward to having two weeks off - Minnesota, hockey, and some delicious lefse are calling my name. I wish everyone a very blessed Christmas and wonderful Holiday season.
Quote from Dignity in Schools facebook page- "The DSC National Week of Action brought together organizations and individuals from 14 states and Washington, D.C. to call for an end to zero tolerance policies, for the implementation of positive approaches to discipline, like restorative justice practices and positive behavior supports instead of relying solely on suspensions and expulsions, and for the passage of federal legislation that promotes positive school climates." I did ask the wrong questions in my last post. Instead of focusing my study on something negative that exists, I want to learn how to promote alternative policies that aid the creation of a more positive school climate. I want to study alternatives to zero tolerance policies, positive approaches to discipline like those mentioned above, and redefine when and why suspensions and expullsions are necessary. My question now is this; what is a positive school climate? How does one help establish an authentic positive school climate, when a negative one is already in place? Ideas my coworkers and I are thinking about: -engaging and informing parents and community members -encouraging alternative training programs for security -questioning administration on their reason for zero tolerance policies (one reason why I need to learn as much as possible about this!)
I had lunch with an old friend yesterday, and he was complaining pretty heavily about his job, which he hates. His work is boring and doesn't challenge him. No one appreciates his contributions. What he does isn't meaningful or fulfilling. He gets paid hourly and has to fight for benefits. He sits at a desk all day. He doesn't get to interact with people. At age 24, no one takes him seriously. He gets no vacation time. He dreads getting out of bed and going to work. And after this long list of complaints, he shrugged and said that's just how it goes in your first years out of college. He takes comfort in thinking that everyone our age feels the same way about their jobs. Obviously I wasn't going to argue with him, but I take comfort in being an exception to that statement. I'm his age too, and my job is the complete opposite of everything on that list. Year 3 is a weird year. With TFA no longer an excuse, people are surprised I'm still teaching. They tend to wrinkle their noses and say, "Still? Are you planning to do that forever?" I get reminded of my Ivy League degree and all the big-name things my friends are doing. People have started to push my on my long term Exit Strategy and What I'm Going To Do Next and How Soon. But Year 3 is also the year that I've started to really love my job. I'm suddenly actually good at something that matters and that challenges me in new ways every day. I change lives, I learn new things, I have leadership roles and responsibility and an enormous amount of freedom to do what I want, how I want. I love my kids ferociously and they love me back. I have an office big enough to seat 34 people and I get paid enough to live functionally. I hate that I work on weekends and vacations, but I also miss my job when I'm not there. I know there are other things I want to do when I get bored of teaching, but I also know I'm no longer in a rush for that day to come. I feel so fortunate that my complaints about my job tend to be more about how hard it is than how useless it is, and I think I'd be dumb to try to trade that any time soon. I'm happy to sit and appreciate what I've got for awhile longer.
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