AUTHENTIC VOICES

“Ralph also took some classes in philosophy and literature and felt himself on the brink of some kind of huge discovery about himself. But it never came.”
Raymond Carver, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
My biggest challenge, and ultimately the biggest failure, in writing this blog has been capturing the teacher’s experience in a way that all can understand.
It was almost 10 years ago that I began writing. The impetus was never that I thought I was the smartest person in the room, or that I thought I had the magical answers to unlock doors to success. Rather it was recognition that I have been provided an opportunity to bear witness to important events that often go unseen and unrecorded.
I’ve always believed that if people had a better understanding of what actually transpired during a school day, we could work together to craft quality policies that actually improved student outcomes.
Too much of education policy today is crafted by tourists, people passing through school buildings, and then making authoritative pronouncements. Case in point a tweet this morning by MNPS’s Equity Executive Officer Ashford Hughes.
By all accounts, Hughes is a good man whose heart is in the right place, but his serving as a one-time substitute no more makes him an authority on the classroom experience than a 6-hour layover at the Dublin Airport makes me an authority on the Irish experience.
I think it’s great that Hughes served as a substitute. More of the support staff should emulate his effort. I’m pretty confident that there is an opportunity in the district for him and others to sub every day if so desired. Their service would be welcome, and would probably have a greater impact on student outcomes than their current efforts.
But here is the reality when it comes to Hughes and his day in a classroom,
  • He wasn’t a teacher.
  • He was a sub.
  • He did no planning.
  • No contacting parents.
  • No grading.
  • He played with kids.
  • He got paid his $155k annual salary instead of sub pay
  • Then tweeted his benevolence

That may sound harsh, but the tourists continue to overwhelm the field of education much like Nashville’s downtown has been transformed by those allegedly in pursuit of the “Nashville experience”.The end result in both cases, is an unauthentic cacophony that only serves to drown out the voices of those who actually contribute to what is purportedly sought. . Both the well-intentioned and the malicious are culpable for the current state of affairs.

Fortunately, I am on occasion blessed to hear from those that actually work in our schools daily, and am humbled by their willingness to allow me to provide a platform to share their thoughts. This is why I started all of this, to give voice to those who are often unheard.

MNPS has a voiced commitment to “every student known”. It’s an admirable vision, but we mustn’t lose sight that teacher issues are student issues, and a goal of every teacher known is equally important.

Here are two views of current conditions from two separate MNPS teachers. Hopefully, you’ll read them and hear what they are saying. In the future, I hope to share more.

They may not be as poetic and inspirational as Hughes. They may not be what you want to hear. They may reaffirm what you already know. They will be authentic.

Again, thank you to all of the teachers who suit up and show up, even when the job seems unsustainable.

Now enough of my prattle, on to what teachers have written.

It’s been long days with no time to complete the work I’m trained to do.
It’s been welcoming students back, sending them to quarantine, asking for test results, checking masks, communicating with parents constantly, sanitizing my classroom, spacing kids out in line, spacing kids around the room, making seating charts, line charts, class split lists, and waiting for the next wave of sickness or exposure.
It’s too many chiefs with checklists across the district and not enough people to do the hard work.
It’s filling in, taking on other students, and helping colleagues when they are out with no sub. All for minimal “in lieu of sub pay”…if we fill out the form correctly and turn it in on time.
This year is implementing new policies, new standards, and a new scope & sequence with unproven results and with less resources.  We were told with Wit & Wisdom every student will hold a book, they don’t. We’re sharing 2 students per book at best.
We’re implementing this scripted curriculum and our kids are not ready for it, but yet we move forward anyway.
We have completely abandoned Science and Social Studies.  We no longer “teach” handwriting and our students struggle with fine motor skills and forming letters correctly because they have been on laptops and iPads far too long.
We have no resources for Math, just links to click on to take us to meaningless tasks because our students are way behind the prerequisite skills necessary to complete the planned tasks. It is a guessing game with each click of the mouse taking me to either an abundant information for me to read/print and make accessible for my students, or it takes me to a simple word problem.  We have no resources for Task Launches, Spiral Review, Math Talks, Student practice, assessments, etc.  Each grade level is trying to piece together something that works and supplement with iReady time when wifi works.
This year is meeting on Monday for “Math Planning” and meeting on Wednesday for “ELA” planning with “assigned homework and preparation” to complete before each scheduled meeting that takes up 2 more planning times per week if done with fidelity.  This leaves us with only one hour per week to call our own to complete grading, observation prep, paperwork, parent contacts, room cleaning, and all the other things we need to do.
We realize what works this year will be completely abandoned next year.
We are inundated with trainings and deadlines.  Too many to count.
Emails are constantly coming in regarding grades, progress reports, and report cards.  It’s too much to take in.
This year is working so hard, because I want my students to love being in school in person again, but feeling exhausted.
This year is working beyond contracted time almost every day and feeling too exhausted when that duty is over to attempt to prepare for the next day.
This year is being reminded to use self care, to be present with our own SEL, and to use MNPS provided counseling…all to help us cope with an untenable work situation.
* When creative and conscientious professionals are robbed of any autonomy, something very important is lost.  It chips away at a teacher’s self esteem, confidence, and expertise.  You never feel like you’re doing all you should, or that you have the space to use your own judgement.
One more, shorter but every bit as real.

I need a district that acknowledges the fatigue and despair teachers are feeling and finds a way to keep them from burnout. Teachers need fewer emails about emotional health and stress and more support from ​the district.  I have worked for 20 years, and I’ve never wanted to quit until this year.

Why am I in meetings all the time and planning on my own time? I should be treated like a professional capable of teaching. I need more time to teach my kids phonics, grammar, guided reading, and teacher discretion over Wit and Wisdom. There should be teacher discretion over Math Tasks based on student needs. Our students need less Lexia and IReady but more direct instruction during PLT! Our students need less Wit and Wisdom but more language support to help with reading.
Teachers need to be trusted as professionals!!! When did teachers go from being the most valued, respected adults in the districts to the most questioned, monitored, and inconsequential to district mandates?
If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish to join the rank of donors, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated. Not begging, just saying.

 



Categories: Education

3 replies

  1. THIS -> “Too much of education policy today is crafted by tourists” That hits the nail on the head, although Mr Hughes is not a tourist like a Chamber of Commerce member or legislator who sends their kid to private school. I can’t really imagine that his sub experience would have been the authentic one that “we have” when we sign up.

    That authentic experience includes zero expectation of any expertise from school staff, no remedies for kids acting out, and no measurable pay, which when we are brutally honest, is naturally how the MNEA wants to keep it. It’s a super-tough gig.

    We need unannounced visits from MNPS management as subs, in cognito – and I would add from every legislator and council person as well… Except of course that to even be a sub takes months of background checks, and on and on.

    We need recognition that our score-segregated magnet schools, and charter schools, do not even use the standard MNPS sub pool, that _they_ do their own thing, while assigned/integrated/zoned schools often suffer from doubled up classrooms as vacancies go unfilled.

    Great post, as always. It’s never a failure to bring clarity to what is going on. Journalism is only a failure when it tells us what we want to hear, at the expense of truth.

    Shifting greats:

    I join you in wishing the best for Mr. Hughes. I have zero upset that he is paid a living wage in Nashville. I do wish more teachers had 6 figure incomes.

    As I think about this title though, Chief Equity Officer, I wonder why he has said nothing about our ultra-discriminatory middle-school auto-pathways to score-segregated high schools. And, I’d love to hear him speak with laser clarity about why we have score-segregation of entire school buildings in Nashville in 2022. Maybe ask him why so many charter schools, originally set up to serve poor African American students, are heaping graduation honors on first-gen immigrant students, which have always out-scored predictions from family income.

    Anyway, I hope you can score an interview with Mr Hughes and ask those great and unanswered questions! Equity is something that should not be left to one official at Bransford. It’s on all of us!

  2. This breaks my heart. What can I do to help? Beth O’Shea

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. One of my favorite posts you have ever done. Definitely feeling all of this as an MNPS teacher. And yes there has been an open position for Dr. Hughes to come sub in at my school every single day this year. Mrs O’Shea—to help you can sign up to sub or apply for a job as a teacher, paraprofessional, or bus driver! The vacancy issue is draining the life out of teachers this year, and it twists the knife a little every time MNPS claims “it’s not that much worse than usual.” They need to do something, and fast, before many more of the people actually working with students get burned out.

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