Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Support for teachers

I'm not the only one tired of hearing that we reformers hate teachers (when precisely the opposite is true). Here's TFA alum and writer Conor Williams, a Senior Researcher in New America's Early Education Initiative, who tells of his own (mediocre) educational experience and how he was mugged and beaten to within an inch of his life while walking home from school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn during his second year of teaching:

I write about American public education for a living. As someone who cares profoundly about inequality and the state of social mobility in the United States, I've come to truly love my work.

But it's time for me to confess: I am a "teacher hater." I'm also bent on "undermining public education" in service of my "corporate overlords." Or, at least, that's what my inbox tells me every time I write something about charter schools, Teach For America, or education politics in general.

And while unsolicited hostility is part and parcel of the politics writing game these days, this particular line of attack cuts particularly deep.

Look: I went to pretty dodgy public schools for my entire K-12 career. My hometown's schools were — and are — admirably racially and socioeconomically diverse. When I arrived at college, I was shocked to find out from others relating their K-12 experiences that this degree of racial integration remains a rarity in American school districts.

Unfortunately, the schools were also academically moribund. Paradoxically, this is how I learned to love teachers; for every great instructor I had, I suffered through countless classes where significant learning was only a fantasy.

When people tell me that the "education reform" movement is a corporate enterprise run by wealthy adults who scorn teachers, I'm genuinely confused. I consider myself part of the education reform movement because I know the dire state of American public school instruction. I know the difference that great teaching can make—because it was so rare in my schooling. Those outstanding few were my heroes.

…But — like most TFA teachers — that wasn't my approach. Nor was it my reason for leaving.

Rather, I left because I woke up bleeding in the hospital one fall night during my second year of teaching. I'd been found face-down and wallet-free on a street corner on the walk to the subway stop near my school. I barely remembered leaving our building—let alone how I'd been attacked.

I missed two days of school — one in the hospital, and one at the precinct, filing a report. Those were the first two days I'd missed since becoming a teacher.

Most of the scars aren't visible (though I have a few persistent marks on my face). But the physical recovery has taken years. The post-concussion symptoms were particularly brutal; I had months of headaches and developed an incessant eye twitch. The rest of my body wasn't spared: I limped on bruised knees for weeks after the attack.

…I'm tired of being told that I have no standing in these debates, or that I hate teachers. You want to have a debate on the merits? Fine. But don't accuse me of being disingenuous. Because I care about public education, and I have the teaching scars to prove it.

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