Thursday, July 1, 2010

No longer a classroom teacher Part 2: Not joining another school

Like I said in the previous post, my displeasure with the change of administration didn't ruin my appetite for teaching. And as I said, I had one possibly two jobs lined up.

The part of the story I haven't yet told is of my girlfriend, Ashley. She graduated from a very good liberal arts college with a degree in political science, and certified to teach. She couldn't get a job.

Budget cuts? No. Lack of training? No. Lack of competence as a teacher? No. In fact she was told by a principal that he would love to hire her if he could...

The real issue: She was certified. She couldn't get a job in Philly or Baltimore because she wasn't a part of an alternative certification track. She decided to get trained as an educator in college over 4 years, including student teaching, and spending countless hours in observations in schools. If only she decided to go to teacher training summer camp (like I did), she could have gotten a job.

So instead of me continuing for a year or so at another school, while she tried to find other work, we are going to travel. This fall we are going to travel across the US visiting schools and seeing the country. We plan on reporting here (and on a website-to-be-created) what we find. Our focus on the trip will be progressive education, the connection between progressive politics and progressive education, and environmentally sustainable schools. We will be looking at how schools are a part of their communities, what their communities value, and what communities can do to better have their schools represent what they value. The hope is to make this information useful for schools and communities across the country, as well as teach us a lot.

We both want to teach (I'll probably move to undergrad teaching after some more grad school), and we'll be back when there is a school that we want to be a part of, that wants to offer either of us a job.

No longer a classroom teacher Part 1: Leaving my current School

So, I've stopped being a classroom teacher. Not totally by my choice. Here is the story:

Synopsis: Liked the school, liked the principal. Principal is changing, don't like the new principal.

I've been teaching for two years, at a nice little school in Baltimore. There were definitely issues, but it was a place where my voice counted and improvements always seemed possible, if only people had enough time to implement them.

The principal was above average (n=~9 of principals I've been a student under, teacher under, or my parents have taught under). He left many decisions (including sizable budgets) up to individual teachers, department or grade-level teams, or the staff as a whole. He would probably be considered a strict disciplinarian, but I rarely heard him described as unfair -- if you did the right thing, you didn't get in trouble. Despite the school making 'significant gains' 3 of the 4 last years (true of only a handful of Baltimore Public Schools, and only a couple Baltimore schools without entrance requirements), and being the only 'non-criterion' school in Baltimore City to receive a state honor for excellence in education, he got significant pressure from the district. Because of this pressure, the principal decided to leave the school.

It is for this reason I decided to leave the school. The replacement principal has been working at the school as a part of her training for New Leaders for New Schools. I got the opportunity to know her very well while she was training, as I was the head of the Science Department. I didn't like what I heard (or rather, what I didn't hear). There was no vision for what education should be, could be. There was a tone of desperateness to get 'these kids' educated so they could have a better life. (It often sounded like we needed to do it in spite of the students, instead of with them, or assisting them). Some words and phrases, that were previously not used in the school, started popping up: comply, celebrate testing, ongoingly. The most surprising thing was that within a few days of the announcement to the staff (the students didn't know, and the leaving principal gave the new principal some room to make (and fix) mistakes before her first year) the students started disliking their experience a lot. I heard many students talk about transferring.

So this change at my school made me want to leave. I found two schools that I would REALLY like to work in, one in Philly, one in Baltimore. I got an offer from the school in Baltimore, and was pretty confident I had a good chance of getting an offer from the school in Philly if I hadn't pulled out of the process. So why am I not teaching? That will have to wait a few hours.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Science education

For those of you that don't know, I'm a 2nd year TFA corp member. I have my issues with the organization like anyone else who likes the idea of public education, but its an organization I'm glad I joined. I'm using my position in the organization to influence other teachers and their pedagogy. I recently got an email asking about what science education should be, and how to better train corp members to teach science. I included the following as an incomplete list of the premises I think we need to agree upon before deciding how to teach. What additions to this? What subtractions? What changes? Thanks for your feedback.

Premise 1: The scientific method is THE 21st century skill (along with the engineering process), each student needs to be able to discover for themselves. To prepare our students for the world they need to learn how to think (no content will prepare them), not just know.

Premise 2: Science content is by nature fleeting and most content is unnecessary to teach (for example, Al Gore speaks of a student in his elementary school class that was ridiculed for thinking Africa and South America fit together because that wasn't the accepted theory at the time. I only wish I knew what lies I was telling my students because its what we think now).

Premise 3: The only skills that matter are 1) being able to learn new information through experimentation and 2) be able to learn new information through research (reading, watching, talking, etc.). If we can teach our students how to discover information and how to learn on their own we would have done our jobs. Now of course to research and experiment takes a whole lot of other skills, we just need to ensure that we are teaching those smaller skills so that they can learn the larger skills.

Premise 4: My goal is to create citizens and not workers. I'm not satisfied with students that are docile, attentive, competent and quiet, if they aren't also interested. I'm as interested in if my students vote, are active in their community, volunteer, explore, protest, communicate, and try to discovery as I am in their ability to read the periodic table.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Educon 2.2

The conference has inspired me to start posting again. Expect more this weekend.