Tuesday, July 19, 2005

We take our realities for granted...

I'm spending the week with two colleagues at Confratute, a week-long intensive professional development program at the University of Connecticut. It's like summer camp for teachers - structured activities all day, cheesy social events all night. And a glossary of "confra-this" and "confra-that."

New York has ruined me. I miss irony. I miss the pace of life in the city. I hate the lack of sensory stimulation here at UConn, staying in dorms, eating too much food that I don't really like in the cafeteria, walking down 195 to Starbucks to avoid the watery cafeteria coffee.

Whine.

In talking to teachers from outside of NYC about what they do, about what their schools are like, I am realizing how much we take our own realities for granted. "I think that would be illegal in Connecticut!" in response to me talking about how teachers at my school have to do extra stuff like teaching PE or art even though we are not certified in those areas. I ask what that means, what the state would DO if your school was so small that you couldn't afford to hire a full time language teacher or art teacher to teach only a few classes, and couldn't find anyone interested in a part-time position. Turns out the schools in CT are turning away teachers in most certification areas. People take part-time positions hoping that will help them get their foot in the door for a full-time position in a year or two. People have never even heard of Teach For America, because the idea that an uncertified, inexperienced, fresh-out-of-college kid could possibly get a job in a real school.

And it goes on. I am surprised, they are surprised. A lot of people here work in gifted education, have gifted certification, run enrichment programs. They speak a whole other language about teaching. Doubly-exceptional, triarchic model, etc., etc. We catch up as quickly as we can, at least on the pieces that feel important. We try to focus on what we can bring back that will help all of our children go farther and deeper. And we wonder about children we know who might have exceptional gifts, and what we could reasonably offer them.

In the Region where I work in NYC, basic academics are a crisis. Kids get three periods of math per day in some middle schools, and only a few periods a week of science and social studies. So many people fight just to keep the schools off of SURR lists and free from special sanctions or extra attention from the state. Elevators? Gifted programs? Push-in enrichment specialists? Responsive Classroom? Civil War simulations? My school doesn't quite fit in this context. We know about some of these things, wish we knew about others, try to do as much as we humanly can. We know that it's absurd that a child with a broken leg or a person in a wheelchair would be unable to enter our school. We try to think past the crisis, to see how long-term strategies can help us win the war and win a lot of the battles along the way. But we don't quite fit in the Confratute context, either.

Obviously, it's not news to me that I am a brand new teacher with a lot to learn, that I work at a brand-new school with a lot to learn, that I work in a system where the challenges and day-to-day realities would boggle the minds of most people. Nevertheless, surrounded by (well-meaning) teachers who take so much for granted, I feel slapped in the face by the level of inequity in United States schools.

11 Comments:

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