I’m Back (In the Classroom)

Around this time a year ago, I wrote about leaving the classroom to work at a nonprofit. I thought I was probably done with teaching forever. Well, now that we are moving to Atlanta, I am going back. And I’m really excited about it.

In my Atlanta job search, I’ve applied for a bunch of different positions: nonprofit, school system administration, and teaching. I’ve had three interviews: one at a prestigious nonprofit that had been my first choice, one for an ESL position at a high-performing (ish) school close to home, and one for an ESL position at a 100% free/reduced lunch school a little farther from home that was over the phone only.

I knew from the beginning that a teaching job was always a backup for me if I couldn’t find a nonprofit or administrative position in Atlanta. What I didn’t expect was how I strongly I would feel like teaching was what I was supposed to do again, in a particular environment.

I first started to think about teaching seriously during my interview at the close-to-home school. I had such a sense of comfort and ease while talking to the interview panel, the way I always do with educators. Like, these are my people; we get each other. We were completely on the same page, speaking the same language. I knew exactly what to expect from the interview and exactly what I would say in response. But for whatever reason, I wasn’t very excited about working there. They told me they would let me know their decision by the end of this past week.

I felt like the nonprofit job interview went well. They also told me they would let me know by the end of the week. So then when a different school district called on Wednesday about another ESL position, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to participate in the interview process but didn’t expect to take the job.

But after talking to the school system’s ESL director and then the principal of the school, something happened. Maybe it was because I really liked the principal, especially when I googled him and read about his impressive background. Maybe it was because all the particulars of the school and position just seemed to fit: all new administration, lots of new teachers, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade ESL, a small school, combination of pull-out and push-in ESL instruction, my own classroom, etc. Maybe it was because the school is low-performing and 100% high poverty, which is what I am used to. Maybe because the school system is struggling and I feel like they need me. To be totally transparent, maybe it is also because this particular school system pays quite a bit better than the other. For all of these reasons, but also because of something indefinable that I am not really able to articulate, I started feeling like this position was the job I should take, even over the nonprofit job if it was offered to me.

I have always had a very strong intuition. One of the best examples of this is that I knew that Jonathan’s and my first child would be a boy before we were even pregnant with him. So when my intuition was telling me that this was the job for me, I listened to it, asked the principal for a day to consider my options before accepting his offer, and waited to see what would happen.

The rest fell into place. The nonprofit went with someone else. The close-to-home school wanted to hire me but was still evaluating their numbers to see if they needed another full-time ESL teacher. So I am taking the job that compared on paper to the others makes the least sense, but is what I really want. The way everything turned out contributes to my feeling that this is where I’m supposed to be.

The great thing about doing a job that you’ve done before is that you walk in on the first day (which, by the way, is Wednesday!) knowing exactly what to do. So even though I haven’t seen the school other than through Google Streetview, or met the principal or any staff in person, I feel like I’m going home.

 

13700080_10206632881729807_4290493259523108040_n
Thank you Target for getting me appropriately prepared with cute classroom decorations for the new school year.

 

 

I Support Public Education (And So Should You)

I’ve written quite a bit about being a former public school teacher. You might think that because I left teaching I have a problem with public schools. In fact, the opposite is true. I love public schools. I think they are the foundation for a democratic and equitable society. I support them, and you should too. More on that in a minute.

topic-public-school

First of all, a story. Growing up, I attended both private Christian and public schools, though I ended up graduating from a private Christian school. Here’s a brief summary of the state of the school options in my hometown (circa 2002-2006): expensive college-prep private, mediocre Christian private, and public schools containing mostly minority students.

When I say the private Christian schools were mediocre, I mean lacking options, like AP/IB classes, electives, even honors classes in most subjects–things the public schools had in abundance. Case in point: At the time that I graduated from my private Christian high school, there was ONE AP class offered–AP Calculus–that wasn’t doable for me. I entered college with no college credit, when other students had full years.

My parents were paying thousands of dollars a year for fewer options than I could have gotten at the local public school, for free. It boggles the mind.

183384_1002755278237_4492_n

So why am I writing about this? Am I still bitter, ten years later, about not getting to take a few AP classes? Of course not. I’m writing about this because it matters, a great deal. The way people feel about public schools affects education policy at the state and federal levels–how much funding schools get, how public school teachers are evaluated, how (and how much) students are tested, etc. In the end, that affects all of us.

494492aab3921048a9a88cd64e6a9e73

Why are public schools worth supporting?

  • Public schools are legally required to provide all necessary academic services that children need, for free.

Did you know that public schools are required by the government to provide all services that children with various needs require to have equitable educational access? This includes services like ESL, classes for the intellectually gifted, a variety of special education classes, hearing and vision specialists, and speech, physical and occupational therapy, to name a few. One of my previous schools even purchased expensive cochlear implant hearing aids for all of its hearing-impaired students with district money. Do you think private schools offer all of these services? You would be very hard-pressed to find one.

  • Public schools are held to common state and federal standards.

All public schools are held to the same state and federal standards under which they are judged. Teachers are required to be highly qualified and evaluated for effectiveness at regularly-scheduled intervals. Money in the budget has to be accounted for. Curriculum is based on the Common Core standards. Private schools aren’t required to meet any of these standards. (In my nine years in private school, I don’t remember a single instance of a teacher being evaluated by an administrator while I was in class.)

  • Public schools expose children to those who are different.

It is a fact that many private Christian schools in the South opened during the 1960s and 70s as a way for parents to keep their white children separated from the black students in newly-desegregated public schools (see here, and here–the latter article is about my hometown). Most private schools remain overwhelmingly white. For example, there were maybe 5-7 black students in my entire high school of approximately 200.

As the average evangelical church is fairly segregated, your average white Christian child at a private school could conceivably go through his or her life and not interact with a person of color until adulthood. Personally, the first time I can remember talking to a black person was when I switched from private to public school in the 7th grade. What message are we sending to kids when they are constantly surrounded by those who look and act just like them? How do we expect them to feel and to act when they do encounter diversity?

Public school provides middle-class white children with the opportunity to interact and become friends with kids of different races, ethnicities, cultures and socioeconomic classes. This interaction (a) fosters empathy, (b) prepares children for the increasingly diverse United States that we live in, and (c) teaches children that they are not the center of the universe.

  • Public schools have the potential to be the great equalizer.

Theoretically, public schools have the potential to be true meritocracies, where all children enter on a level playing field and have the ability to succeed or fail based on their own merits and hard work. We know in reality that this is rarely the case. Even though no one is paying for an eduction at a public school, middle class parents are still able to provide extra benefits to help their children succeed, such as outside help and support, a knowledge of how the system works, etc. But the dream is there. Done right, public schools have the potential to be truly equitable in a way that private schools can never be.

 

So what is the point of this post? What’s a concerned parent to do? I’m not saying that public schools are the right choice for everyone in every setting. If I lived somewhere with a very low-quality school system Jonathan and I would perhaps choose private, too.

This is my point: Truly weigh all of your school options before automatically selecting a private school for your child. Make sure the private school really is a better choice, and has the services and options that the public schools do. Do your research. If your child won’t experience racial diversity at school, intentionally include it in your lives in other ways. Consider the fact that if more middle-class parents chose public schools, the school system would likely be better for everyone. Most importantly, don’t assume public schools are bad just because they contain a lot of black and brown children.