On the new 2018 School Year

It has been eight years since I left the classroom. There was a little push from some minor health issues and a bigger shove from administration at my school that kept pressuring and threatening my practice and integrity. I want to write this blog entry for teaching colleagues, retired and active, former students of my classroom practice (many of whom have entered the teaching profession), and any reader that cares about fair and equitable funding for public education, and believes that social justice should be an integral part of a public school curriculum.
I would like to focus on three areas: the current state of politics, funding, and education, foundations of classroom practice, and suggestions for teachers that could enable them to maintain control of their classroom practice.
Current state of politics
We have a lunatic inhabiting the oval office and he has chosen a greater lunatic to be Secretary of Education. DeVos has done a lot to demolish fair funding, diminish rights for special education students, and changed federal student loan policy that will harm college students. She favored guns in classrooms, and she implied that there are bears in Montana that might eat our children.
On the state level there is a governor’s race – Governor Wolf has increased state funding for schools and his opponent, Scott Wagner, was the person, under former Governor Corbett, who led a billion dollar cut to education. Wagner has advocated reducing/laying off 10 percent of public school teachers, stating that “We’d never miss them.” He once took a single reporter on a helicopter ride to show three schools to the reporter to support his claim that schools do not need an increase in funding. Wagner is quite simply another lunatic.
Foundations of classroom practice
When I was teaching I firmly believed that each classroom was a unique learning community. There is not simply one way to teach that will fit all classrooms. Teachers teaching and monitoring other teachers is a way to fight this trend of prescriptive teaching that encourages teachers to follow a model in order to gain ‘success’. Teachers should be allowed to plan collaboratively and accept an approach of using ‘better’ practices (not best practices). If there is such a thing as a best practice then once you have achieved that, there is no going further. That leads to the prescriptive teaching that I abhor. This is by no means easy to accomplish. It requires a lot of hard work and long hours, but team planning, evaluating other teachers in a non-judgmental way, and incorporating student voice can lead to amazing results.
Diversity is key to sound classroom practice, and can have many manifestations. First, the teaching staff should reflect the diversity of the community. It is not enough for a school to claim they honor diversity if their hiring practices do not really reflect that claim. I have worked in schools where this is the case. Diversity should reflect race, gender and sexual identities. I hesitate to name people in my blog entries but in this case I will mention two of them. Sharif El-Mekki and Sam Reed are actively advocating for more male black teachers in schools. Their work is critically important and I support their efforts. Please support them in any way that you are able. Diversity is also important in choosing curriculum. As an English teacher I spent many years excluding white male authors with a few exceptions (Walt Whitman and George Orwell were two exceptions). I was certain to choose writers of color, particularly women writers. Diversity is also important in choosing what to read – be sure that your curriculum includes poetry, history and other non-fiction works. I have written about this need in other blog entries and I encourage to review some of them if you have the time.
If your school does not utilize teachers planning together, then encourage them to do so, either privately or in a faculty meeting. Of course, you should talk to other teachers first to see if there are allies for this approach. I grant that it can be risky to do this, particularly if your school favors a prescriptive approach to teaching. In such cases, begin small – even collaborating with one other teacher will have benefits for the both of you.
There are larger networks that can help with teacher collaboration and here are two of them. The Philadelphia Writing Project (part of the larger National Writing Project) and Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (S.E.E.D.) Both offer institutes for teachers to learn more about diversity, critical theory and social justice, and both can be found on Facebook and googled on the internet. I encourage you to look into their programs and agendas. I can offer more information if you get in touch with me.
Search for more materials that can help you find non-fiction work that are good for classrooms. Teaching for Tolerance (from the Southern Poverty Law Center) offers many free kits on numerous topics that are great supplemental materials for a social justice classroom.
By all means, VOTE! Public education is in trouble and the move to privatization is downright cunning and sneaky.

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