Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Policy From the Top, Reality in the Trenches

According to a Washington Post article, the Obama administration's latest foray into the education arena involves enforcing a six year old law that mandates states to create plans to ensure that "excellent" teachers are being equally distributed to poor and under-served schools.  Now, I have spent my entire career teaching in an inner-city environment.  My current school is a Title 1 school located in the heart of "Little Mexico".  While I will not pretend that I have never worked with a bad teacher, I resent the government's assumption that the majority of the teachers working in some of America's most needy schools are anything other than excellent.

Over the years I have witnessed countless colleagues buy students clothes, ensure that they had food to take home at night and over the weekend and drive students home rather than leave them to walk home through a rough neighborhood in the dark.  Since the county school system to does not directly provide wrap-around services, our staff has worked with a local food bank to coordinate monthly events as well as a mobile dentist and a mobile hospital clinic to provide check-ups.  Just in my class alone, I have students that have witnessed the sudden death of a parent, a sibling's downward spiral with drugs and alcohol, have recently experienced homelessness and have been spent time in the foster care system.  Despite the trauma that these students have faced, the vast majority of them have shown an amazing amount of improvement, despite coming to me several years below grade level.  Many teachers at my school have similar tales. In fact, if Hollywood spent a week at my school, they would walk away with dozens of scripts for movies about people overcoming the odds.  However, according to the government, the school is a failure as the test scores do not measure up to wealthier districts.

I recently challenged my local union president to come to my school to teach our neediest students and then explain why on earth he agreed to sign off on Race to the Top.  I challenge officials from the U.S. Department of Education to come down to my school and spend a few days shadowing my colleagues before declaring that we are anything less than excellent.  Like my offer to the union president, I expect this one to be declined as well.  However, while others sit on their perch and judge, I will continue to teach, collaborate and inspire down deep inside the trenches.

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