Thank heaven schools are open again in Chicago after seven missed days. The closure was a bad thing, all sides are agreed on that. Let us hope, though, that the negotiations and communication of those seven days will serve a high purpose for schools everywhere, making the interruption worthwhile.
In the Chicago teacher strike, my sympathy was with the teachers—naturally, I suppose, since I have spent 14 years of my life teaching special education in the public school system. To be clear, I believe strongly in accountability and professional development and that there needs to be a good way to address incompetence. As an education professional, I eagerly anticipated being observed and evaluated as an opportunity to teach my students more effectively. We teachers watched test scores—and all other measures of student learning—closely, as in “evaluate, adjust.” But my succinct statement in response to what I see as an over-emphasis on 1) achievement as measured by test scores and 2) teacher responsibility for student performance is this: There is too much blaming the teacher when, in fact, they serve as a strong bastion against the complicated, ever-evolving, negative socio-economic forces in our society.
I offer no great insights or solutions; the situation is far beyond my ability to diagnose and prescribe. Which is why I have chosen other options than teaching in recent years. I felt like the greatest majority of us were working as hard as we could, doing our best to practice best practices, completing the paperwork efficiently and accurately, and nurturing and encouraging each student to reach her/his potential. And still, results did not always hit the high mark. The whole of it became too much for me, so, at this point, close to retirement, I’ve left it to the younger set, with admiration and best wishes.
A new perspective on schools is coming to me now, that of a grandparent. Last week, I was an honored guest at school breakfast with one grandson and lunch with another. Two aspects of contemporary school life struck me. The first was the security system, Lobby Guard, an automated machine into which a visitor like me inserts my driver’s license for clearance to enter the building. The need for such security sobers and saddens an oldster like me, and yet, the process was orderly, friendly, and reassuring.
The second aspect, most delightful, was the rainbow of children, utterly diverse in racial and ethnic background. ‘Tis marvelous how the kids hardly marvel at the melting pot of their classrooms like my generation often does.This is simply life, not even a new normal for them, just normal period.
The ugliness of not-so-long-ago segregation with its hatred and bigotry by some and suffering for all stand in stark contrast. How could that ever have been? And, yes, there are still grievous inequities in education which must be urgently addressed, and are being addressed, as in this happy story about a school in South Carolina’s “corridor of shame.” As we celebrate this proper and life-changing event, however, let it be noted that having a decent school should not depend on a visit from a president.