Educational research states that 2014 will likely be my last year teaching. Since the majority of teachers leave their posts after five years, most of my colleagues in the 2009 Teacher Induction class of Penn GSE will be out of the system by the time the Imagine 2014 plan is complete. However, I plan on being here for decades to come. Why? Because I still believe in the School District of Philadelphia.
At times I still question that premise. At the end of many Fridays, I am glad to leave the building for a two-day break. I feel frustrated that another week has gone by where so many things have gone wrong. I feel hated by students, who give up because they have missed three days of class in a row and then blame me for their not knowing information. I feel diminished by the lack of communication within my building between teachers and the administration. I feel drained from coming to school an hour early and staying an hour late to help students who should have completed the assigned work three months ago.
Yet despite all that, I still believe in the School District of Philadelphia.
Call me crazy, but I am so excited that I get to talk with high school kids every day about what is happening in their lives. I love it when they tell me about their weekend. I love it when I see the “aha” moment in their eyes, when they understand how to factor a complex quadratic expression (sorry, a little math moment there). I love the high-level pedagogical discourse I have with my colleagues as well as the inane chatter about the kids (yes, we talk about them).
Yes, I still believe, for all these reasons and more:
Because of students who ask the perfect segue question during a math class.
Because of teachers give up their prep and/or lunch periods to participate in programs like “Critical Friends,” wherein we observe each other and provide informative feedback.
Because of students who get up before the sun rises in order to get to school on time.
Because of teachers who struggle to balance the needs of an unrealistic core curriculum with their student bodies.
Because of administrators who teach social studies courses in an effort to push back against the demands of doubled-up Math and English courses because they are tested on the PSSA.
Because of teachers and students who adapt to constant roster changes on a day’s notice.
Because of counselors who deal with caseloads of 400 students on a daily basis.
Because of teachers spending hours working on creative methods of implementing scripted lesson plans, demanded of them even though they lack any basis in research.
Let’s be honest: the School District of Philadelphia is in shambles. There is a looming budget gap of over $225 million dollars; the bloated central offices have a narrow focus on test scores instead of actual learning; the teachers are feeling so much pressure that we are leaving the profession before we are skilled enough to make a large difference!
I try to bring my whole self into the classroom with me when I teach, so I am not shy about explaining how my Jewish background affects my pedagogy. There is a quote in the Talmud (a Jewish book of rabbinic law) that states, “Whosever preserves a single soul…scripture ascribes to him as though he has preserved a complete world” (Sanhedrin, 37a). I believe that education is saving lives every day. If that is true, then while the rest of America may be waiting for Superman, I recognize that every teacher is a Superman or Superwoman every day they work.