I remember a day all of us teachers took time away from our classes and work to attend a talk on the Portsmouth Model. I googled Portsmouth, even Portsmouth, TX, just now and found most articles were on Portsmouth, VA. Portsmouth, TX came up as part of a Rick Perry campaign for teaching Creationism in public schools.
Well, our Portsmouth, TX was all about a school district with a lot of Hispanics that had found the magic bullet for getting these kids’ test scores up. Most of the material was just fine: a lot of dedicated teachers working very hard to force little kids into the maw of the American education drill and kill system. But, as so many things we’ve seen come out of Texas in the last decade or so, it sure wasn’t magic.
And that’s the problem. These administrators, at every level, want teachers to perform without a net for low pay and in lousy working conditions. For that reason, they continually waste our time looking for the magic. I will propose two possible reasons for this waste but I am sure there are many more.
First, we are trying to educate children to the standards of an earlier time when most students came from literate homes whose inhabitants were pillars of the community, or, put better, were exemplars of the culture of the times. The parents read, played music, participated in church and community events, and so on. The children joined the literacy club a la Frank Smith early on in life.
Then came the mass society. Now teachers are expected, to put this as simply as possible, to bring into the literacy club children whose parents never were members. The children are already members of other clubs; again, to put the worst face on it, members of gangs. My wife was a member of a church club where children attended church week nights and often stayed up late for services. She managed to maintain a high GPA but at a high cost.
Second, schools are a bureaucracy and bureaucrats rule. Here I do not mean to disparage bureaucrats but only to point out that they are not teachers. They are not trying to drain the swamp while fending off alligators, they are making rules for those of us in the swamp to follow. They rely on theories of learning that are based not on firm research but on the needs of corporations who want to sell “product” to thousands of school districts. Decisions on teaching methodology, curriculum design, and so on are made by people who have little to no experience in teaching anything to anybody. My guess is that a lot of them harbor childhood resentments toward teachers and relish taking all decisions out of the hands of teachers and putting them on a computer program.
To my personal story:
Most adults would assume that teachers just teach kids; it can’t be that hard except for the discipline issues. The fact is, teaching is a highly intellectual profession. Fareed Zakariah recently featured Finnish teachers who are pulled from the top ranks of applicants whereas ours are pulled from the bottom; it’s easier to get into medical or law school in Finland than it is to get into a teachers college.
Yet conferences for teachers, not magic bullet affairs but real professional conferences, are the blood that feeds our intellect, our need for true collegiality beyond petty teacher lounge politics and gossip. I began attending a major national conference for fl teachers about 1998 and have gone almost every year since. A few years ago I joined the faculty of a private school whose funding for professional activities comes in part from the local public school district. It makes sense since we educate many students who would otherwise be in their system. Twice now this district has paid my way to the conference – costs run over $1200 for airfare, hotel, per diem, and conference fees.
In my public school, I think I got $300 one year. That’s it. I got several paid for by the organization itself because I had board member duties. The other times it was all out-of-pocket. So this year, probably my last conference before permanent retirement, I applied again.
I leave today. I prepaid my hotel and flight but waited on the minor cost of membership dues and registration, assuming I’d get word on approval/non-approval by now. No. I am told the district is going through an audit and they are carefully examening every expenditure.
That’s OK. We all need auditing now and then. I’m turning in a curriculum map soon. But whose idea was it to hold up a teacher’s funds for a professional conference? It was the idea of someone who doesn’t think we are important. Certainly, private businesses have their glitches with their travel departments. However, my guess is that the higher up you go in the hierarchy, the fewer the glitches and those are smoothed out by secretaries. Our travel secretaries handle several thousand teachers.
So what I think I’ll do, whether I get funded or not, is write a letter to whoever runs things over there explaining what it is like for a classroom teacher to try to register for a conference, book a flight and hotel, all the while not knowing how much, if any, will be covered or reimbursed. The next time someone asks me to stay on as a Latin teacher, I will use this incident as a reason I am leaving teaching in a school setting.