"Things that interfere with writing well: Earning a living, especially by teaching."

-William H. Gass

Monday, March 30, 2009

Another "Let's Respond to the Insensitive Moron" blog

So, I got this comment from someone too scared to identify him/herself:

Formalized schooling is a joke. It is not only expensive, it is downright prohibitive to actual learning. Leave the system behind. You have already wasted too many years of your own life feeding the beast. Abolish the DOE, both federal and state, and return education to its true owners: Families =. There should be a true and strong BOE in every town in America, and the world for that matter, who are answerable only to the children and parents that they teach

I don't know where to start.  I think I will go line by line.

"Formalized schooling is a joke."
A product of formalized schooling myself, I find this personally offensive.  That being said, I'll be the first to admit that I have deep concerns about the state of American public education.  Without a system of formalized education, however, we ensure a de facto caste system in which each child born into poverty is guaranteed a lifetime in exactly that position.  Public education, free for all, is the foundation on which a socially mobile democracy sits.  

"It is not only expensive, it is downright prohibitive to actual learning."
Again, I will be the first to admit that kids sitting in silent rows staring at a blackboard is the hallmark of an old, tired system.  I am not opposed to reform.  I also teach in a school that qualifies as "formalized schooling" but which contains no rows, no blackboards, and I'm pretty sure learning happens.  

Per schools being expensive - you either pay early or you pay later.  Every dollar spent on Pre-K education saves more than that dollar on prison costs later.  Students who graduate from high school are exponentially more likely to become tax paying, law abiding students - and guess which schools have higher graduation rates?  The ones we spend the money on.  If you want safe, productive communities you have to educate the people living in them, even if they aren't your kids.  If you don't mind paying billions of dollars in corrections costs, then screw the schools and pay for the prisons.  You'll pay either way.

"Leave the system behind.  You've already wasted too many years of your own life feeding the beast."
This one really hurt.  I did some crying; I can admit it.  Whoever you are, have you read any other entries on this blog??  I have met some of the most amazing kids on the planet.  Kids who have overcome barriers I can't even imagine.  Kids who have battled homelessness, domestic violence, physical and mental disabilities...kids who have lost family members to gang violence...kids who thought, every day, for years, about killing themselves.  And yet they came to school and worked their asses off and kept a sense of humor the whole time.  Many of them overcame their own sense of worthlessness, and actually started to believe in themselves.  I'd like to think I had some tiny part in that, and I'd like to offer you, anonymous prick, a giant FUCK YOU for calling it worthless.  Really.  Fuck you.

"...return education to families."
This is the most ridiculously overprivileged elitist argument I have ever heard.  Not everyone is  blessed with a family.  And if a person does have a family, that family might not be capable of offering an education.  Maybe they have to work three jobs and need public education to take care of it.  Maybe they don't give a shit.  Whatever the case, it certainly isn't the child's fault.  Had my education been left to my mother...well I shudder at the thought.

Look, jerk, public education might not be perfect.  I'll be the first to admit that.  But getting rid of it gets rid of democracy.  It will solidify every current social class, keep the poor in poverty and benefit the rich, white overlords.  Public education was supposed to be the "great equalizer."  If you abandon it, you abandon any hope for equality.  So, to that end, I'm going to go ahead and keep wasting my time.  You, sir, can kiss my ass.  

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Department of Redundancy Department

During my time as a graduate student, there was a case in North Carolina regarding the rape of a stripper and several Duke rugby players.  Perhaps you remember it too.  Some insensitive prick wrote an article in the Harvard Crimson immediately following the incident, and I wrote a blog about it.  Said blog prompted my father, lifetime editor of my writing, to say, "You know...you are good at writing about things that make you mad...but...um...you are terrible at writing WHEN you're mad."

All that to say, it is inadvisable to write this blog about the Department of Education at this very moment.  Excuse me.  All that to say, it is inadvisable to write this blog about the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education at this very moment.

But those fuckers have earned themselves what promises to be an incoherent, disorganized blog.  Actually, they have earned this honor in partnership with the Office of Educator Licensure at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Together, they form the Department of Redundancy Department.

Ahem.  Let's start at the beginning.  Or, rather, let's start at the end of undergraduate studies.  A distant moon ago, I completed my bachelor's degree and took a job as a paraprofessional in a local school.  While working at that job, I decided to pursue a career in education.  This decision necessitated a Master's degree, which I got.  Following that, I took the required state exams for teacher licensure in my subject, passed both of them without a single question wrong thankyouverymuch, and got the bottom rung license one can get, assuming I would move up the license ladder as I got more experience teaching.  

The above paragraph took 7 years and cost approximately 127,000 dollars.   (And yes, shaping young minds is priceless.)

Since earning this teaching license, I have been teaching for a tad under three years.  Now, with two years left on my "bottom rung" license, I need to think about beefing that sucker up.  Enter the Dept. of Red. Dept.  

I call.  I ask.  They say, "With a Master's you should be able to get the next level just by applying."

Gee, that's simple.  It must be a lie...

And, indeed, it is.  I apply for said license (earning the Dept. of Red. Dept. 147 dollars) and promptly get a rejection.  The stated reason: my institution does not endorse this license as I did not complete a Teacher Education Program Approved by the State of Massachusetts.  Duh, I knew that.  I completed a sort of policy meets poetry writing meets teacher training program.  BUT I had lots of Teacher Education Program folks in my classes.  In fact, aside from one or two required courses and an internship, I completed the very same program they did.  Some of those credits must transfer...mayhaps I could take a few more classes and be done with it??

Again, the Dept. of Red. Dept.:

"It is up to your school.  Call them and they can tell you what classes you still need to change your license, and you can probably use your current job as a teacher for the practicum."

Okay now this makes sense, sort of.   I call my school's office of Teacher Licensure - they have one because the Dept. of Red. Dept.'s policies are so convoluted and confusing that it takes a full-time employee 40 hours a week to understand them.  The secretary answers.  This office has its own assistant.  Please digest this...

It takes two full-time employees a total of 80 hours per week to explain the Dept. of Red. Dept's policies to Harvard students.  

I get the boss.  This woman is a fucking peach.  Granted, I would be too if it were my job to understand the D. of. Red. D.    We get to a point in the conversation in which she says:

"Are you writing this down?  I am giving you the facts.  These are the facts.  This office cannot tell you what you need to do.  Only the Dept. of Red. Dept. can decide whether or not you need specific classes or internships.  This school has no say in the matter.  I am going to say it again, slowly, so you understand."

At this point I am trying not to smash things, so I just hang up.

I call the Dept. of Red. Dept. 

My call was potentially monitored for quality and training purposes.  I find this especially entertaining.

"Hello this is [bureaucrat] how can I help you?" 
"I just called, and I'm calling again.  I was told that in order to change my license I needed to call my school and they would tell me what else I needed to take in order to get their endorsement.  Correct?"
"This is correct."
"They said only you could decide that."
"We have no power to decide that.  Only the school can decide what qualifies."

Rather than bother with Harvard again, I call another school, and explain the problem.  Will they look at my transcripts, my current teaching job, a portfolio, and tell me what classes I need to take in order to change my license??

Yes, sort of.  They (UMass Boston) have a certificate program for people with Master's degrees.  I will have to apply to their graduate school, earn 24 credits, and I can use my current job in lieu of an internship placement so that I can continue to work.  (Harvard doesn't understand that people work at jobs for a reason; they have always struggled with that concept.)  

Great!  So I can take night classes, for which my school will pay, and somebody will come watch me teach once and a while, and at the end of it all I can get what I need for nearly zero dollars and I don't have to quit my job.  Super.

Ohhhh hold on a second there cowgirl.  That sounds a bit easy, now doesn't it?  I had better make sure the Dept. of Red. Dept. accepts this kind of route.

Dept. of Red. Dept.

"What are you currently teaching?"
"At a public high school?"
[with immense guilt] "No...it's...a private school."
[real or imagined disdain?] "I see.  And it is a particular kind of school?  A special education school or parochial perhaps?"
"It's a special ed school."
"Hmm.  So you'll need your special education license and your English."
[I don't mention the history classes.]
"I just spoke with Umass Boston and they claim that I can take a post-graduate certificate course of study and upgrade my English license that way.  I could go back for my special education certification after that, right?"
"How would you be completing the practicum?"
"At my school, Umass said they let you use your current job as placement."
"You can't use a special education classroom for an english practicum."

I won't bother you with the rest of this conversation.  The facts are as follows:
In order to do my current job for more than two years, I need to-- 1. quit my job and get an internship somewhere else for  a semester where I teach English to non special ed students 2. get another master's degree and certification in special education 3. not teach history anymore

It is IMPOSSIBLE to teach English while also teaching special ed, is the message I am getting here.  

deep breath

Here's the thing that gets me.  Well, it all gets me.  But the thing that gets me the worst is that I spend every awake second of my day doing my job.  There isn't a second I'm not thinking about how to do what I do better than I'm already doing it.  At the gym, I'm on the treadmill thinking about how the day went and where I went wrong.  Making dinner, I'm thinking about a new way to approach that one kid who keeps giving me trouble.  Falling asleep, I'm worrying about the kid who missed three days in a row.  Brushing my teeth, I am wondering if what I planned for the day is going to work.  I spend my evenings and my weekends grading papers, and I think and think and think about every sentence, from every kid, every time.  And I can't help being immensely pissed off by the thought that these people who keep me on hold all day only to read stock answers from info sheets posted on the sides of their cubicles spend exactly 35 hours per week and not a second more thinking about what's best for kids in schools.  I know it's an old, tired thing to be pissed off about, but it feels fresh to me.  

When I first got to my current school, I asked for a description of what I would be teaching.  

My principal said, "Humans."

Now, the message from the Dept. of Red. Dept. is that in two years, I won't know how to do that.  The real truth is, nobody fucking knows how to do that.