A former graduate student shared that shortly after taking over a class (she's the 4th teacher this year) she reviewed the children's writers' notebooks. She said she was dismayed to see that a few students had written the following entry:
"I will not talk in class anymore."
Last week a teacher I know discontinued working with a student teacher. She indicated that the student was not ready to teach given her lack of preparation that resulted in significant and consistent errors while teaching. The student teacher was denied a credential and returned to the college.
Some years ago I oversaw the literacy program for a public city school system. A neighboring charter school would hire the city's Reading Recovery teachers to work as after school tutors in order to teach those students who were most at risk for reading difficulties. The leader of the Charter explained that he could not match the salaries of such senior and well educated teachers, nor could his school pay for the continuing contact and other costs associated with Reading Recovery. What he could and did do was to pay for after school eduction for children. As he told me then, "Our teachers are too green to know how to do this (prevent reading difficulties). They can help the Reading Recovery teachers and learn as the students are learning."
Yesterday, I passed by a charter school in an inner city. It was a beautiful building in a neighborhood of mostly boarded buildings and largely littered sidewalks. The building was well maintained and attractive with the sidewalks surrounding it, neatly swept. I thought about the number of studies I have read and the plethora of comments from public school advocates I have read all indicating that charter schools are no better or worse than public schools as measured by single test instruments and I wondered if such a measurement makes any difference to the people who send their children to this charter school.
I think of the players (teachers, students, student teacher, administrators) in these minor dramas and wonder about the complex issue that (in)form our understanding of schooling—a topic that ought to be fraught with positions, especially these days. Where one might expect to hear the clamor of different voices chiming, there seems to be just two dominant voices that relentlessly sound and sound again. Are you pro-public schools or are you pro-charter schools?
Such a query is hegemonic posturing at best. The current public discourse about teaching and learning is dangerously narrowed in order to position one's perspective and to obfuscate the more challenging realities we fail to discuss:
- who has consistent opportunities to access high level curricula in this country and who does not and why is that;
- what constitutes high level curricula (for whom?);
- how do local values matter;
- what are the relationships between poverty and learning and how do we create equitable environments for all;
- how do we reconcile differences (who & what gets valued and not).
After exhaustive study, the Gates Foundation and other experts have learned that the only in-school factor that fully correlates is quality teaching, which seniority hardly guarantees. It’s a moral issue. Who can defend a system where top teachers are laid off in a budget crunch for no other reason than that they’re young?I am curious as to what study he is referencing (no citation was included) and take exception (and hope you do as well) with the syllogistic leap in logic that posits "top" teachers as being synonymous with youth. Is Alter suggesting that youth and inexperience are correlates for fine teaching? Is there some juried study that shows that? The faultiness in such thinking is extraordinary, but no longer unusual in these Shoot Out at the O.K. Corral days.
Lost in such binary advantaging (get rid of senior teachers and keep young teachers) are the necessary conversations about privilege, quality, relevance, context, opportunity, and empowerment we need to be having. This us vs. them drama distracts and keeps us from addressing our shared responsibilities regarding democracy and schooling. Recall John Dewey who wrote, “We naturally associate democracy, to be sure, with freedom of action, but freedom of action without freed capacity of thought behind it is only chaos.”
I can't help but wonder what sense Dewey would make of the repeated calls for action (get rid of tenure, stop health benefits, do not pay for teachers' higher degrees, employ beginning teachers, privilege youth) by bureaucrats and billionaires who seem to make such utterances with mindfulness that makes me wonder to what end our democracy is secure. Their posturing (employ young teachers, build charter schools) leaves not only public schools in chaos by undermining public trust, but our democractic system as well.
I will not talk (in class) anymore may well be the first volley in this grand monologue about public schooling, especially as we seem to be running headlong into a two class system populated by those who have and those who serve those who have. Makes me wonder if all this posturing is a prelude to a return to serfdom.