Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Flirting with Disaster

I have been avoiding this blog for three months and a handful of days. Recently, a teacher at my school wondered if it wouldn't be therapeutic to begin writing again. These past few months have been traumatic, to say the least, for educators all over Los Angeles and in many other parts of the country. I haven't written because I didn't want to whine and complain; this blog is meant to be about the joys of the library, not the crumbling of the public education empire. After three months and a handful of days, however, I can no longer avoid the reality of this collapse, and it is becoming so deeply hurtful and personal that I do need the therapy. Badly. For the first time in eleven years I am seriously considering what life would be like if I just didn't work in a school anymore. The luxury of that decision is so mouth-wateringly tempting that I have found myself browsing nonprofit job listings more than once in the last few weeks. Just to think of a life that doesn't start until after 6am! A one-hour lunch break!

The public school system in Los Angeles is on the verge of collapse, or at least it feels that way to me sometimes. More and more schools are being auctioned off to charter organizations, in spite of the fact that many of those charters have not proven to be any better in terms of student achievement. Massive layoffs and budget cuts mean that each day is a struggle for teachers and students trying to navigate the most basic of everyday operations. These operations take so much time on all of our parts (since our staff is down to a skeleton crew) that instructional time starts to disappear, processes erode, chaos ensues. Two BIG charter organizations have put in bids for my school. Meaning that after the next school year, the Board of Education will decide whether those of us who have been working our butts off for the last decade are good enough to keep fighting the good fight, or if some politico has offered a slick enough package to make it seem like selling us out to a charter organization is real education reform, which it is not. I repeat, giving public school control to charter organizations does not equal educational reform.

I just want to be a teacher. That's it. I want to teach children in a large, underperforming school in South Central, Los Angeles. Is that really so much to ask? I mean, I was under the impression for the last ten years that there aren't that many people out there who really want to do what I want to do. Am I wrong? Are people clamoring for this job? I heard an ad on NPR last week for a teacher preparation program practically begging people to become teachers in order to fight the "overwhelming teacher shortage" in this country. WHAT? Where? Half the people I know have been fired in the last two years. They all wanted to work here, chose to work here, and were told they were not needed. Now I'm being told the same thing, and even if I manage to scrape through and hang on for one more year, my school will probably be usurped by a charter kingdom that will most likely shut the library doors because, according to many (if not most) charters, it doesn't make financial sense to fund the library program. This is, of course, in opposition to pretty much all research done on the subject, which proves time after time that libraries are critical to student achievement. But whatever, right?

Here's the thing. I don't want to fight a political battle for the next year, breaking my neck to write a competing plan that will explain why what we do here was working quite well until a third of our teachers were fired two years ago and another big chunk was sent home again last year, and another group again a few weeks ago.

I don't want to have to beg the Board of Education to value school libraries. They should already value them, don't you think? They should be able to see that our school's test scores were going up steadily, year after year, and only took a dip AFTER the first, massive, painful round of layoffs that stranded our students in classrooms with substitutes every day or people who had been out of the classroom for more than a decade.

I don't want to hear bad news every day.

I just want to be a teacher. I am a teacher. Why don't they want me?

This whole thing is somehow deeply, personally painful for me. I find myself feeling resigned, depressed, and rejected. I worked so very, very hard to become a good teacher. My first year in the classroom was as bad as they say it can be. I struggled in front of my students and wept when they left the room. I drank too much tequila on the weekends to dull the pain, and I somehow found my way to the surface, gasping and flailing, to find that I loved the job and wanted to do it forever. I found a mentor who told me to persist, that I should and I must, and I followed that advice even though it was the most difficult thing I've ever done. I have earned three teaching credentials and a Masters in Education, but the school board is going to make me attend a hearing to defend my qualifications as a teacher, as if all of that time and work means nothing to them.

I have never met a single, real human person who has said that they think teachers or libraries are unimportant. Where are these people? I suppose I'm grateful I don't know them, but the fact is, they're controlling my life even though they seem to be invisible figments of our collective imagination. Does everyone just SAY they think teachers are awesome but then secretly answer some clandestine survey saying the opposite? It's so hard for me to understand, and that lack of understanding has translated into (as all good teachers know) frustration, fear, anger, and apathy.

So what do I do? That's the real crux, is it not? What the hell do I do?

1) Flee. Get out while the gettin's good (although it's not really that good, is it?). Leave public education for the seemingly greener pastures of....what? Nonprofit work? That's where I get stuck.

2) Stay. Keep plodding along for the sake of these marvelous children. Figure out a way to stay at least one more year before the school board has its menacing way with us. Cope with the everday tension and pain. Keep checking out library books to the kids who, thank god, don't know the difference.

3) Fight. Join the protesting masses. Write on this blog vehemently and often. Write letters and sign petitions, work long hours, respond to Google groups, attend more meetings, and sweat it out.

It's funny. When I became a teacher, I would have chosen the third option without a single qualm. No questions asked, fighting would have been the obvious choice. What does it say that the most appealing of these now is to flee? That's where the pain really hits home. I've changed, and maybe it's this thing that I love, being a teacher, that has changed me. And maybe that change is not altogether positive.

So, if you've read this far, thanks for being my therapist today. I may call on you again sometime soon. Just out of curiosity, what do you think I should do? Flee? Stay? Fight? I'd love some advice here. And just to be sufficiently nerdy about getting that advice, I've created a little poll on the sidebar of my blog where you can tell me what you think! Oh man, I am just a born librarian. What are they thinking, trying to get rid of me?


Brent said...

Mizz Murphy, keep your head up. Fight. Let me know when, I'll be there to fight alongside you. B.T.

Shayana said...

Ok. I voted "Stay", but there really should be another option. Stay in education, but Flee the school. There are two new high schools opening up near you, Mizz Murphy. I know, because I'm going to apply to them, both for my primary credential and as a TL and let the chips fall where they may.
I know how you feel about working hard and still being rejected. If anyone does, it's me. So jump that ship and swim over to another one. Maybe it will sail in a better direction.

amy goldman koss said...

Great and sad post. I say fight!!!!! (as long as you can! as long as that's a choice!}

Anonymous said...

I voted flee, but I also have another option: Walk away. Find a place where your professionalism and commitment are valued. You don't need to fight every day to prove your own worth. Like you, I was given a choice of fighting or finding a place for myself. At some point, you have to take care of yourself so that you can take of others.

Jane said...

Now is the perfect time! Flee, start a family. Teach some precious child of your own how to navigate these murky waters. Work from home. Write children's books- you'd be great at it. Make a difference to one child at a time. You will NEVER regret it.

katiesmurphy said...

I don't know how to vote. I can see all three. And the fourth -- the one that SHOULD be above all else and so clear the other 3 aren't necessary -- is that you and the others in this mess would be embraced the way you describe without such exhorbitant amounts of adversity.

That you are in this situation is wrong the way child hunger and neglect is wrong. It's ALL the way wrong. I'm so sorry you even have to pose this question. You and your whole crew should be celebrated. Exalted.

PerfectPear said...

I voted fight... but only until you don't have it in you anymore. Don't loose yourself in the process, but if you've got more fight, give'em hell.

Perfect American Family said...

I think you should send your blog posting to www.studentsfirst.org - Michelle Rhee's organization. I am frustrated for you- and for the children in our schools who would miss out on your passion for teaching and sharing the love of learning.

Anonymous said...

The political battles just got worse and worse the past few years. I couldn't take it any more. Every year I was told by the principal that we would have to suck up the cuts this year, but next year would be better. It never got better.

nullrend said...

Reading through your last posts reminded me of all the different teachers I've had over the years.

Regardless of the circumstances, I've found the best teachers are the ones who care about their students. The ones who, in spite of it all, give themselves to the task of making sure their kids learn.

Reading on how the LAUSD behaves, I couldn't help but compare it to the SEP (Public Education Secretariat) in Mexico. It is destroying itself, with politicians simply giving lip service to the importance of education.

That is if someone isn't being outright corrupt about it and is helping keep the ruckus going to hide the tracks.

Keep up the good fight. Those charters aren't the be-all, end-all they purport to be. To the people running them, they're just holding pens for children who are to be treated and taught like cattle.