A year ago, I blogged about the inevitability of school closures and how we all some how would have to come to grips with the fact that tough times called for tougher decisions. Some how I believed that ultimately the closing of poor performing schools in Philadelphia would mean an overall improvement in the quality of those schools, which remained open. Some how I believed that in this instance we would sacrifice a few for the greater good of everyone. Some how, I was wrong.
The other day I had the pleasure of attending a Kwanzaa Celebration at the Imhotep Institute Charter High School. Although I was there to indulge in a “celebration of blackness” as Dr. Maulana Karenga himself put it, I couldn’t help but, notice the cleanliness of the facility and the passion of the school’s leader as she discussed the mission of the school in its surrounding community. I couldn’t help but notice the hopefulness and the evidence of being steadfast even while “under attack” for promoting excellence amongst black children. I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast from my everyday experiences in the School District of Philadelphia.
I couldn’t help but, wonder why any parent would choose a struggling district school when this could be the alternative. Frankly, in that moment I decided that I am over my allegiance to the School District of Philadelphia and all that enable its nothingness.
I am over sending children into school buildings where staff members believe that mold grows like cotton in the Antebellum South and where the hallways wreak of sewage and soured milk.
I am over assaults on teachers, grown ups brawling on the schoolyard and kids bragging about going to “Juvi”.
I am over budget cuts, union concessions and contracts alike.
I am over failed leadership and teachers who speak up only when it is convenient for them to do so.
I am over the strategic interventions that are supposed to help teachers implement the strategic interventions strategically.
I am over the fact that (to some) that last sentence made absolutely no sense.
I am over the culture of silence in our schools.
I am over red lines and observations formal or informal.
I am over cliques and collaboration.
I am over broken pencil points and kids who show up with no pencils at all.
I am over shattered glass and meaningless work orders.
I am over empty salutes to the flag.
I am over all of the dogs that eat homework and the lame that came up with that excuse in the first place.
I am over an achievement gap that insists on growing.
I am over the people on the outside who swear that they know what the hell is going on.
I am over the conspiracy against black and brown boys.
I am over the neglect of poor children everywhere.
I am over being a part of the problem.
Good Morning, 2014.
Sometimes I sit back and think to myself that it had to have been a teacher who invented the game of throwing shade. Seriously, sometimes I think cardigans and Coach flats aside, The Real Housewives a’int got nothing on the members of America’s most beloved professionals (sarcasm intended), teachers. With budget cuts, student code of conducts that mean absolutely nothing and an achievement gap widening every second who looks forward to the added stress of dealing with catty, cut-throat and conniving colleagues????
The point is, I have spent a lot of years in this profession, and at times it has been tougher than a poorly cooked steak. Sometimes the source of my anguish has been the self-imposed pressures that come along with wanting to do my best even under the poorest of working conditions. Other times, the source of my strain has been some little darling or eight (LOL) that have mastered the game of pressing buttons better than Bill Gates or the late great Steve Jobs.
I won’t tell all of my stories (I have to save something for my book) but, I will go out on a limb and say that often times it has been other teachers that have been a major source of my dismay. In my last post, Dear Teachers, I made a call for unity amongst my fellow educators. I wish more of them would have read it. Anyway, this is not an attempt to bash teachers, as attacking one another at this point is self-sabotage. However, I want to take this opportunity to share a few tips regarding how to foster more positive relationships with one another (in the work place) and how to work together more effectively to better serve children.
1. Be kind. My aunt always told me that I should learn to “kill with kindness”. My grandmother (God bless her soul) used to tell me that I would “catch more bees with honey than I would with vinegar”. Some twenty years later, I am starting to see the wisdom in these words. This doesn’t mean that we have to like everyone that we come across (I reserve the right to give the side-eye and severe shaky ties as needed…lol). It simply means that we should be sincere in our dealings with others and that we should show the courtesy and consideration that we would like to be shown. Even in instances where we may feel the need to be defensive, if we take a moment to stop and show kindness we might be able to change the energy and outcome of what could otherwise be an ugly situation.
2. Clearly define the term “Team Player”. In my personal opinion, a lot of people (educators and other professionals alike) have manipulated the whole “team player” and “collaboration” movement. In short, being a “team player” does not mean that your colleagues are suppose to go a long with all of your ideas or do your dirty work. After all, a true team environment is one where the workload is fairly distributed and one where everyone on the team is respected and valued. Furthermore, (on a team) everyone should work to do his or her part. If you find that there are members of your team that love to “fly under the radar” or “pass the buck”, you don’t have to come down with a sudden case of the butter fingers but, establish clear boundaries and never be afraid to politely say “No”. Regardless of differences in philosophies or opinions, effective collaboration in schools (and anywhere) can occur when all members of the team feel supported, valued and in a position to bring their strengths to the table for the betterment of the whole.
3. Focus more on what you do have and less on what you don’t have. Lately, I have been studying about the law of attraction and the power of our thoughts. Basically, the law of attraction says that what ever we think of we will attract more of. Therefore, if we focus our thinking on what we don’t have (no funding , no paper, no pencils, no secretaries, no nurses) we will only attract more experiences in which we lack. While I can in no way justify the idea of a nurse not being on duty in a school at all times (especially in light of the recent tragedy where a young Philadelphia 6th grader lost her life following an asthma attack), I am wondering if educators’ and lawmakers’ obsession with the budget deficit (rather than with acquiring resources) is helping to draw more of a deficit toward our schools.
4. Don’t “playa” hate. If you know a teacher that has a strength or a particular expertise that you or your students can benefit from, reach out instead of viewing this person as a threat (I can think of a few people that I would love to come and organize my closets). Over the years I have come across teachers with many gifts…..Actually, one of my dearest friends sang back up for Elvis!!!! Sometimes instead of acknowledging someone’s unique talents we become hostile or we see someone else’s talents as a reminder of our own flaws. This doesn’t help our children and it certainly doesn’t allow us to keep our smiles at the end of the day. If you know someone with a skill that you would like to learn more about seek them out and be prepared to share your forte too. We all have something to offer!
Overall, a couple of months of rest in the summer are really of little consolation when I think about the workload and the challenges that many teachers face. Moreover, at times we are the targets of so much unwarranted anger. Casting stones at one another just adds more fuel to the fire. With that being said, while our relationships with our co-workers may not always be a “bed of roses” as the elders would say, we can work toward having positive and productive professional relationships.
The one thing that we can all agree on is that everybody loves summer break. For at least three months out of the year, “America’s finest” flock to beaches across the country to cavort in salty waters and exchange stories of war and triumph. Maybe at the end of June you head west to California, or south to Maryland and the Carolinas. Maybe you like the bright lights of Miami, or the tranquil of the Florida Keys. I’m a Vineyard kind of girl myself but, maybe you find solace at the Jersey shore. At the end of the day, do our differences really matter that much? After all, I’ll take sunshine anywhere, on any day of the week……just please…. spare me the shade.
Daninia A. Jordan
Alongside some of you, last week I attended a Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) General Assembly. The gathering was concerning the expiration of our contract with the School District of Philadelphia, the union’s stance regarding concessions (in response to the school district’s current budget crisis) and so forth. Aside from a bit of drama that I encountered at the verification table, the mood was one of optimism. An ocean of crimson spread across the Liacouras Center, as union members anxiously awaited opening remarks from union president, Jerry Jordan. Clearly, Jerry Jordan is no Moses but, those who came brought the hope and faith of the “chosen people” as if they were looking to be led out of the wilderness and through the belly of the red sea.
I guess I should start by asking my readers (all 5 of you….hahahahaha) to accept my apologies for my hiatus. In short, it’s been a long year. The stress of what I’ll politely refer to as “the year from that place where the devil resides” coupled with the fact that sometimes you just need to step away from everything caused me to do just that. So anyway, I’m back and to be honest my mind is chock full of a bunch of stuff. Like most people in the African American community, I am still trying to process (and make some degree of sense of )the recent George Zimmerman Trial verdict. It was not even two weeks ago that I was on a train heading back to Philly from Washington, D.C. when the announcement came in. As the train bustled into the Baltimore Station, I glanced down at my iphone to refresh my philly.com page and I stumbled across the headline “Zimmerman Acquitted”. I initially thought that the website was using some kind of bizarre strategy to grab the reader’s attention or that I was having some kind of delusional moment courtesy of the onset of fatigue that might naturally accompany a long weekend of traveling and celebrating with family and friends.
Recently the Philadelphia Magazine found itself in the middle of a political avalanche resulting from the publishing of a story by writer Robert Huber entitled “Being White In Philly”. In short, many African Americans including our mayor, Michael Nutter, accused the magazine of “race-baiting”, perpetuating stereotypes about people of color and souring already fragile race relations within the city. Now let me be clear, (given our nation’s history) I think the media should exercise sensitivity when approaching a discussion surrounding racial relations. However, I also believe that the media can be a powerful tool in regards to generating dialogue about any topic, race included. There may have been a number of statements in the article that I found to be difficult to digest but, isn’t this usually the case when one is confronted with an uncomfortable or sensitive issue? With that being said, on some levels I can appreciate this story and the lessons that can come out of it as follows:
Earlier this month, Philadelphia’s former school chief Dr. Arlene Ackerman passed away after a period of illness due to pancreatic cancer. Prior to battling with her illness, Dr. Ackerman left Philadelphia for New Mexico. She spent the last year or so doing consultant work and mending wounds she sustained after being caught in the political warfare that any leader of color should expect (should they fail to adorn themselves with the political puppet strings that are usually prescribed for them) upon taking the helm of just about any entity. Anyway, whether you loved Dr. Ackerman or hated her, one thing we all can agree on is that she was an agent for much needed change in Philadelphia’s schools. The former school superintendent was a fearless advocate for Philadelphia’s children and their families.
This issue of school closings in Philadelphia is not all black and white (I do mean that figuratively). On one hand, you have parents, student activist and educators alike vowing to fight to keep many of the Philadelphia public schools (slated to be closed) from permanently shutting their doors as early as June 2013. In many cases, the schools that are slated to be closed have been pillars in their communities. On the other hand, no one wants to see massive school closings but, sometimes change is inevitable. While I do not want to see people losing their jobs as a result of school closures (myself included), I have to say that the School District of Philadelphia can no longer afford to run in place. While I understand the concerns associated with mass closings, (job loss, an increase in school violence, higher levels of privatization and so forth) we as a collective Philadelphia have got to face the facts. The facts are as follows:
The school- to- prison pipeline or STPP, involves the systematic failure of our educational system to address the academic as well as the social-emotional needs of today’s students, which results in their inevitable transition from the walls of our public school system to the walls of the prison system. Schools usher young people into the criminal justice system in a number of ways. For instance, excluding “at risk” students from traditional learning environments and isolating them from their peers through suspensions and transfers to disciplinary schools is one such way in which children are led like lost sheep to the turbulent pastures of the prison system. Additionally, ‘zero tolerance’ policies in which students are removed from public schools for offenses such as possession of weaponry and bullying also indirectly supply the demand of institutionalized livestock. School suspensions also feed the pipeline by causing students to miss school and lose out on precious instructional time. This results in a lack of achievement, which in turn frustrates youth, causing them to drop out of school opting to receive an alternative education on the streets. Most of the time, a crash course in street credibility will lead one to the confines of incarceration or worst, death.
Since its inception, the Black Church has always played a pivotal role in the fight for Civil Rights, Social Change and Justice. Tracing back to the secret congregations formed by enslaved Africans on plantations in our nation’s South, reflecting on the “I Have A Dream” years of a young baptist minister from Georgia and looking at modern day Civil Rights leaders respectively, the Black Church has always been on the forefront of the road to Equality. Whether one points toward the slave revolts led by preacher Nat Turner, or toward the non-violent approach to fighting against racial injustice, the Black Church has consistently championed the cause of Freedom.
According to a recent study entitled “Recruitment, Retention and the Minority Teacher Shortage” conducted by Richard M. Ingersoll and Henry May both of the University of Pennsylvania, in 2008-2009 minority students made up 41 percent of the U.S. K-12 Public School population. However, minority educators made up just 16.5 percent of the teacher workforce. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that young talented college students of color are in pursuit of more lucrative career choices (after all an entry level teaching position isn’t exactly synonymous with a “my cup runneth over” like lifestyle). Nonetheless, Ingersoll and May suggest that a minority teacher shortage can be attributed to a number of factors. First, Ingersoll and May highlight problems with the “teacher-supply pipeline”. This includes the low number of minorities entering and successfully completing programs that lead to a degree in Education. Additionally, Ingersoll and May point toward the low passing rate amongst minority educators on teacher certification exams, a pre-requisite for qualifying for a teaching license in most states. But what about those hopeful college graduates that move through collegiate programs and teaching entry test with ease ready to tackle the challenge of educating our youth? What about the “Ready to Save The World” types? What about the “Joe Clark wannabes”?