I did start this blog three years ago, knowing a few things about myself. I knew that I was young. I was twenty-three, at the time. Actually this blog was originally titled Chronicle of a Young Teacher. I knew I was green. I didn't know a lot about education. I was honestly just trying to keep my head above water. I knew I was naive. I wanted to save the world like everyone else, but it hurt as realities hit me all the time.
I like to think that now I am a little wiser in the ways of the world. If you are thinking that I am still pretty young, I agree; but this job makes you grow up fast. I like to think that I have learned a thing or two about education. It takes a lifetime to be an expert, but at least I know how to properly do my job now.
This weekend, though, I did something I said I wouldn't do. I had declared that I wouldn't watch Waiting for Superman because I didn't think it would be an accurate picture of the state of public education.
I know enough to know that if Waiting for Superman were taken as a light shining and revealing the truth then it would be a gross misrepresentation of American public schools. My school is nothing like the ones portrayed in that movie. Frankly, we do a better job than most of the charter schools portrayed in that movie.
It was surprising to me, though, what it is like in failing public schools. The district I teach for is then highest performing district of its size in my state. I did a little research on my district and every single one of the schools in my district is in the top 20% of schools (that includes private, public, and charter) in this state. Is it because of the demographic? Partially, but we do have a mixed demographic. Our school actually qualified under title one until last year.
My point is that I actually went to elementary school in the same public school district I now teach in. This district is one of the best. That's made me naive about how serious problems in education are.
I guess I always knew that a failing school is fundamentally different from where I work. I always thought of my district as the norm. I'm coming to realize that it is far above that. We're the district that realtors in the area advertise first and makes property value go up. We're the district that people drive to from other districts. We are the exception.
Now, lest you think I am bragging, I don't believe my district outperforms others because of hiring good teachers. There is another district within ten minutes of us that is probably the lowest performing district in the state. Is the key difference the teachers? I don't believe it is. My district hires good teachers and the district down the road hires good teachers. If staffs were switched out entirely, I don't believe the performance would be consistently or profoundly improved in the lower performing district.
The key difference is the demographic. Don't misunderstand me. My district deals with our fair share of issues. We have a high non-English speaking population, we have a large number of students living in poverty, we actually bus kids off of the reservation and the reality is those kids come to us with educational deficits if they've attended school on the reservation at all. We still don't have anything that compares to the district down the road. Those teachers did not cause the issues those schools have. Those kids at those schools did not get a fair deal. "Waiting for Superman" can claim the schools caused the neighborhoods all they want. If my school were switched with that one, we would encounter the same problems.
I guess I do have to realize that public schools are not always as good as or better than private schools.
The other thing I was shocked by is tenure. We don't actually have tenure in this state at all. I've seen a lot of underperforming teachers get fired. The only "bad teachers" I have ever seen (and I am including colleagues and the teachers I had as a student) were novice teachers. What I've noticed is that they are either weeded out and let go or they learn. I have no question in my mind about what would happen if I didn't do my job well--I would be fired. All I've ever seen our unions do is handle frivolous lawsuits and personality disputes between administrators and teachers. I don't honestly know if it is different in other states, but I am starting to believe it might be.
What I can say about Waiting for Superman is this: It was a new and valid perspective. That's how I believe it should be looked at--as one view of a very complex issue. Here's my confession about my blog, though--it's one valid view of a complex issue. Sometimes I think that I have the truth light to reveal how public education really is. That's not the case though. I can reveal a perspective that you haven't experienced at all if you are outside the classroom and that might be very different than your inside perspective. My perspective might lead me to a different conclusion than a parent in an impoverished school district, it might lead me somewhere different than a principal of a private school in a wealthy neighborhood, it might lead me somewhere different than the politicians; but it is important. How are we ever going to work together to answer the issues we have if we can't value the other points of view?
So, in conclusion, readers, thanks for listening. Thanks also for commenting. Thanks also for writing, those of you who write your own blog. Recently, I've realized that there are readers who don't live in Education World, as I affectionately call it. I appreciate your reading what it is like from this side. I appreciate your comments, too. I might see things differently, but I know we're on the same side.
As a side note, I want to welcome any suggestions on other education blogs. What do you read? I would like to read more of what people are saying. I am trying to widen my perspective a little.