I'm not sure I'm the enemy of charter schools because they were borne from the very place - the passion - that made me a teacher. Believing in excellence and looking at career options, I chose the life of an educator. Perhaps unique to my decisions, however, was that I became committed to urban education. As I went through my undergraduate degree, my Masters in teaching degree, a Masters in Science, Bread Loaf School of English, University of Cambridge, University of Tokyo, and then my doctorate, it was always with the drive to make K-12, public schools better, especially for young people living in marginalized communities.
That is why I've been thinking about the following:
Politicians can do better:
Those we vote into office need to listen to parents and teachers about the dreams they have for their children. They need to be cautious of snake salesman who promise golden roads. They should look into how money is being spent and whether or not it reaches schools, teachers and students in effective ways. They also need to hold themselves accountable to the demands they make on schools through today's testing empire. It is a waste of resources, time, $, and energy, especially when the testing measures little. They also need to begin investing more into public schools. The last two decades has seen a drastic decline in the support given to school systems. It is, as Kozol pointed out, The Shame of the Nation.
Teachers can do better:
A student I loved teaching, who is now a teacher, sent me a message after I Tweeted a cartoon that was pro-teachers that "Some teachers should be fired." I actually agreed with him and it is one of the reasons I belonged to a union, but disliked them immensely. They protect the wrong kinds of teachers. To me, a good teacher should embrace their students, their school, and the parents of the kids they're working with. They should also have one foot in the door of local universities and national teacher movements so they remain fresh, motivated, and inspired. If teachers aren't reading, complain incessantly, and aren't seeking ways to make whatever situation that gripes them better, then they are part of the problem and should move out of the way.
Parents can do better:
Another student I taught once reminded me that I only influenced her 5 hours a week and that I was a blip on her radar for success. She said this out of spite, but I listened to her and she was right. A vast majority of a child's life in their first 18 years is out of school, but the only location governments can control how they behave is in school. The results of local and national examinations are usually not positioned as the fault of parents, but they host the majority of a child's life beyond school. They need to collaborate with teachers and expect administrators to establish learning communities of appreciation, respect, and motivation. They needn't be helicopters - but they should recognize that it is not easy raising a child and no one has the absolute solution. They should stay in touch with their child's teachers AND talk to them about books they're reading, work they do, and conundrums they face. If they are not acting in ways that affirm their child's well-being (contributing to the world in positive ways), then they should reevaluate their position as primary caregivers. They should think deeply about why they brought a kid into the world...and begin evaluating their own lives.
Students can do better:
The one thing that frustrated me more than anything else when in the classroom, is when I witnessed a child doing nothing, turning to friends who also did nothing, manipulating their parents who accepted their doing nothing, and argued against any accountability at all. Kids know what is right. Yes, school is ridiculous at times, but there's a job that must be done. Wandering hallways, talking back to adults, disrespecting their classmates and themselves, and totally wasting everyone's time is inexcusable. They need to step it up, too. If they aren't coming to school to attempt personal growth on a daily basis, then they are wasting everyone's time. Yes, growing up is about figuring lots of things out and that is forgivable. Yet, if a kid enters school without a plan of action for their own well-being then they simply should stop coming. A teacher can do little with a kid who is unwilling to participate. They can poke, prod, and beg, but it wastes time that could be spent working with kids who desire to grow. The world moves fast...there's not much time for the apathetic. It's simply pathetic when they act this way.
I can do better:
I always thought that the successes I had as a teacher were because I seldom blamed anyone but myself. When a politician, colleague, parent, or student bothered me, I either worked professionally to fix the problem or I kept my mouth shut. Complaining, I found, turned to whining, and whining wastes time. I went to libraries to read more. I consulted professional friends. It was rare for me to give up on a kid or a fellow teacher. There had to be a solution and, I felt, it was my professional obligation to find one. I went to a doctoral program, I suppose, because I needed new answers of how to do better (only to come to additional revelations that higher education is part of the problem - and now I'm amongst them). I expected more of myself so that I could provide more to others who are also looking for solutions. I try to listen, network, read, reflect, and write so that tomorrow I can be that much better. I also feel that the privileges I have as a University professor are many and it is my social responsibility to leave the tower and learn with the majority of people who do not think like academics.
We can do better:
We have to ... In my 18+ years in public education, I've never seen anything like what I'm seeing right now. Teachers have been cut at the knees. They've had their arms tied. There is duct tape on their mouths and the nation is throwing apples at them. Meanwhile, our government is saying, "RUN. SPRINT. FASTER. BETTER." It's abusive. At the same time, the investment is being reallocated to organizations that claim 'excellence,' but are nothing more than an Amway pyramid. Everyone is blaming everyone else when all of us should be held accountable to what we are doing to each other. Schools have a purpose and, I'm sorry, those purposes can never be common and at the core to all learners in every building. Yet, the objectives for young people to be better writers, readers, thinkers, and doers is achievable in every classroom....that is, only if we trust educators as the professionals they are. We all need to revisit Dewey and what it means to be in a democratic nation. We need to check our motives and interrogate them for what they really reveal about who we are.