Monday, November 21, 2011

The real Thanksgiving story, seniority, and charter schools

The highlight of this week was telling my own version of the true story of Thanksgiving...I drew little stick pictures of pilgrims and Native Americans as I went, prefacing the story of why Native Americans were first thought to be Indians. "The saddest thing about this story is that these people from over here (pointing to Europe on my squiggly, misshapen map) is that these people thought they could come be the bosses of all the Native Americans and say 'This is OUR land and we should live here because we're better'" (Insert collective gasp here) I stomped my feet and puffed out my chest for drama. "Thanksgiving was the time when both groups helped each other after they harvested food." I then went on about how the pilgrims unknowingly brought lots of diseases that ended up killing lots of Native Americans. My students were was very interesting to watch their brains turning. When I was finished they asked to hear it again so I did a super fast version and had them fill in the key vocabulary (Mayflower, Native Americans, pilgrims, harvest, etc). The rest of my week I choose to forget...well, sort of.
After school one day, J told me the story of his family in Guatemala and how they moved here (very eloquently and in much detail.) I had an SST about a student whose mom is going through a LOT (6 children, no car, recently incarcerated husband, dead ex-husband, flu passing through the household) and had a student call me mean (this is fairly unusual, surprisingly enough.) C apologized to me..but the weird thing is, I wasn't being mean. He drew on the floor and I calmly told him to get a wipe to clean it up, and he lost it and proceeded to call me mean. If that's mean, I wonder how KJ feels when I waggle my finger at her and tell her to stop disrupting and leave the room.
Outside of my classroom, I went to a union meeting this week. This is causing my breath to catch in its throat a little bit, to acknowledge this publicly to perhaps the 3.6 people who read my blog, but I suppose it's public now so I can do so. My school is going charter. It has been a long, arduous conversation that goes so against so much of the staff's political beliefs at our school, but the reality facing us in the district is one where our school will likely cease to exist as it does now with the autonomies we enjoy to better serve the children in the flatlands of Oakland.
We are going charter to preserve our four autonomies: those around staffing (the staff collectively interviews and hires teachers), around our schedule (both daily and yearly) to better support the needs of our students in this community, around curriculum (treating teachers as professionals who can make decisions about curriculum and lessons that best support the needs of their students), and budget--how we allocate our money in a way that is agreed upon by staff that, once again, best supports our students.
At the union meeting, there were breakout sessions...and my colleague and I went to one entitled "Seniority." The youngest members of the group, we walked in knowing we were among the minority in this group. I am NOT against seniority, I think it is incredibly important to protect teachers who have been in the district and are committed to the children of Oakland. However, when seniority affects children in the flatlands in negative ways--that's where I feel conflicted. There must be a more comprehensive way of evaluating teachers, a way in which those schools that have the most new teachers (those in the flatlands) are not continuously hit by layoff notices the most (my school having 16 of 17 teachers pink-slipped last year). What left me ruffled at this meeting were so many people talking about THEIR jobs, THEIR rights, THEIR realities. Of course these things are important--I am a bit on the outskirts of this because I do not yet have a family of my own to support, but what reverberated within me when I heard these stories was--- what about the KIDS? I KNOW people need to take care of their own children, I get it, but what about when the system may be protecting you, but not the neediest children in Oakland? I am baffled that a school like mine could be threatened to lose its ENTIRE teaching staff simply because we haven't been teaching for more than 5 years. I know I am not a great, even good teacher yet--I have so far to go and so much to learn, but I do know that this work is my life and that nearly my every waking thought goes to those children in my classroom and how I can better support their learning and access to literacy and knowledge that will help them succeed in this world so they can enjoy some of the privileges I've reaped from being educated. This job is not about protecting us as teachers--of course we deserve to be protected, but most importantly so we can serve these children, not simply for our own being. I am inspired by so many veteran teachers and I mean not to speak generally, but in that room, so much of what I heard was about me me me, which seems SO counterproductive to the job we do.
Our school presents the charter to the school board today. I'm still working out what it means for me to be working at a charter school next year...

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