My Two Years in the Detroit Charters
Featured Below are many excerpts written since I entered teaching (in the Detroit Charter Schools) in 2014. I started a journal Day One. I thought it would be mostly positive.
I was so wrong.
These are selections from that journal (which does have MANY positive moments, as well…all about the kids and my fellow teachers). Sadly, the bad outweighed the good and it started to affect me in ways I did not care for. So I left. I moved on to a new adventure. I sacrificed financially to do so. And I have NO regrets because I am strong enough to TEACH again. I can be of SERVICE to KIDS again.
Those journal selections have been pieced together for your reading pleasure. Please note, they have been “cleaned-up” in terms of grammar, spelling, and tense, so the story will “flow.”
It is difficult to put this all out there. Still painful. I have been tramautized in many ways and changed as a person and I am still healing.
Entry 1 (December 2014, The Day I GOT IT)
I entered teaching by accident (if you believe in such a thing). In education circles, we refer to such accidents as “the calling.” Some fortunate teachers have experienced the sheer bliss that comes from the realization of your life’s purpose. I am one of them.
I can only describe the moment as life altering in the most powerful and beautiful ways. I am a teacher. Saying those words out loud to myself for the first time set my life in a new direction. It gave me a new purpose. It renewed my belief in my abilities, allowed me to realize my own potential, and provided me the strength to handle difficult situations with grace and humility.
And what was that new purpose? The kids.
A new mantra was born in me that day: Kids first, always. They are why I teach. They are the reason I go into battle every day and they are the reason I wear my wounds like badges of honor. They are not perfect (none of us mere mortals are), but they are my greatest hope for our future. And they are funny! They are wise. They are silly and innocent. They are unmarred (mostly) by the ugly world of adulthood. And they make me a better person.
So the moment I knew, in my heart and soul, that I was to be their teacher, guide, mentor, cheerleader, advocate, and companion was the best of my life.
I will never forget the moment. And I will share what I am able, but, first, we must back track a bit.
I am a teacher. It is my profession, but it is also who I am to my very core.
But teaching is killing me from the inside out.
I got into teaching for all of the right reasons. It was never about the pay or the glory. It was about the work—the art of teaching. The kids. (I repeat this often for a reason).
My mantra has not and will not change, but now, after a few months in the trenches, my accompanying mantra is “I am helpless.” I am helpless in this situation that is educational reform in Detroit Charters. And I am not a helpless person. So I feel angry and frustrated. I feel deeply hurt. I feel cheated out of my dream. And I feel sorry for the kids. I feel like I am complicit in a conspiracy against them.
Entry 2 (March 2015, The Day I Almost Quit, the first time)
This is not teaching. I am a teacher unable to teach! So what do I do all day?
I find myself in a situation where I spend more time answering e-mails than teaching engaging lessons. I spend more time crunching standardized test score data then I do forming relationships with my students based on trust and mutual respect (and perhaps even liking each other as human beings!) I “efficiently manage my classroom,” complete with the bells and whistles (literally, they have apps for it now). I raise my hand and count down from five on average once every ten minutes to hold their fleeting attention (thanks internet!) I dangle carrots and bribe kids to behave properly so I even stand a chance to teach them the material they need for the “assessments.” And there are many.
On average my middle school students take six different standardized tests a year. That is one every two-three months, with the highest concentration occurring in the spring. It kills a classroom culture, rhythm, and momentum. And it is harmful for the kids’ health, not to mention my own! I no longer teach, according to its sacred definition, because I receive the message everyday (both explicitly and implicitly) that my job is to monitor behavior and raise test scores. I produce results for my co-conspirators’ gain in the corporate world of Privatized Education. And the kids are no longer kids. They are numbers. I am no longer valued as a professional in my field or a human being with feelings and valid opinions. I am a name on a long list of replaceable employees.
But I am good at it. All of it. I can manage a classroom efficiently from a wonderful app on my cell phone and personal computer. I can analyze data and raise scores. I can do it because I am a skilled professional in my field. I am good at reading people—especially reading kids because they are wonderfully transparent and largely innocent. I know kids! Each and every one of them. I know what makes them tick and will motivate them (sadly, it is usually candy and other sweet treats).
But the fact is, it is psychological manipulation. And it is bad for their development. They operate under the assumption that life is about immediate rewards and gratification. There is little intrinsic value for learning and the adults around me seem either fine with this, blissfully ignorant, or are so frustrated they don’t even try anymore (it is a convenient excuse to avoid the hectic nature of teaching these days, after all—if a classroom isn’t manageable, then why bother?)
I spend my entire day spinning in circles to please the adults and keep them off my back while the kids brutalize me. They say things like “I don’t have to listen to you, you won’t be here next year.” And, “It’s not like I am going to college, anyway. School doesn’t matter.” If only they knew how much I truly love and respect them! If only they knew their own potentional! I tell them all the time, but they still don’t get it. They are not entirely equipped to receive such love.
And it’s not their fault. They only know the revolving door of teachers and other adults that make sweeping claims and pronouncements of the love and respect they have for the students and the profession.
What they don’t know is what it means to receive love purely as people and learners, not numbers.
Entry 3 (September 2015. The Day I Lost It-My Faith, that is)
Today an 8th grader told me that she was my “client,” and that’s the clincher. They ARE the clients we serve in for-profit education. In my last position, they even referred to them as such! Their whims dictated my job every day. It’s business. And business is competitive. Don’t like this charter? Well, there are 5 more down the road promising the same thing and more. And all these charters HAVE to be better than DPS, right?
Wrong. Same thing. Atleast DPS doesn’t try to sell you on something it’s not.
And I still love them. Even more fiercely because of the injustice they experience everyday without even knowing it. I am their teacher. I take the beating and I come back with a smile on my face the next day because that’s what I do.
I hear things like, “that’s just kids today,” and “you knew what you were getting into.” I have even said similar things to other teachers. I get it. All of it. But that doesn’t make it alright. Sometimes it is necessary to accept the status quo and move on. But sometimes, and this is one of those times, it is equally necessary to challenge a broken system and be the one to stand up and say “NO!”
But I am so tired. It is a year in and I am fading fast. My mental health is suffering. I am stressed beyond belief. My physical body is aching. My heart breaks a little more every day. My gut wrenches every night as I prepare for the days ahead. My spirit is slowly suffocating and I am becoming increasingly jaded and cynical. My ideals took a big hit this year and I am struggling to re-realize the basic truth—I am a teacher and I am a damn good one!
Entry 4 (December 2015, The Day I got Brave)
My words are my only power remaining. If I want to reclaim my life, it begins by first being honest.
How Charter Schools Work (in 5 easy steps)
- Write Mission Statement and Apply as “charter” to state of Michigan
- Get Agency (typically a university or corporation) to authorize your charter. They don’t do this out of the kindness of their own hearts. There is money involved.
- Get Approved by State of Michigan-not much regulation so its super easy. Now you can recieve money per pupil and are eligible for other types of federal and state aids and funding!
- Convince teachers to work as “at-will” employees with no union protection because they need experience, as Public teachers know how good they have it and don’t typically leave positions and less teachers are being hired, in general, as more and more charters siphen money away from public school districts, forcing them to slash budgets, freeze pay, lay-off employees, and halt expansion to departments except in ELA/Math per the CCSS
- Line your Pockets as you ignore the pleas of your teachers that need more time, resources, support, protection, etc. You made your money. Time to peace out at 4 pm everyday and let them figure it out. If they complain too much, you can fire them anytime you want and bring in the a fresh crop of first year naive teachers to do the same. You aren’t in it for the kids, so you don’t care. It’s all business to you.
I wish this was made up. It’s not I live it everyday.
Entry 5 (January 2016, The Day I Wrote It all Down)
At Will Employment. Weak Labor Unions. Politics Shmolitics (aka the career I LEFT for a reason in 2009). But I CAN’T EVEN ANYMORE! I finally get that stupid saying! I can’t not share these words I am about to utter with a wider audience.
So here it goes:
The last year and a half of my life have been terrible in many ways. TERRIBLE. It has been a miserable existence working in Detroit Charters. Especially for a new teacher, like me, born and raised/trained in an idealistic community full of kind and supportive people.
I am strong, but have a soft heart. It is an asset, not a weakness. ]
I knew things were happening. I worked in politics. I did my research. But even I didn’t see Synder’s EAA and other Ed “reform” policies coming. Even I didn’t expect such harsh working conditions. For awhile, the kids got me through. But they are victims, too, and misery love company.
How Ed Reform works: Throw shit at wall and see what sticks. Well, in the end, all you are looking at is a wall of shit and someone still has to clean the mess up!
Life likes to rough me up a bit. Or I do it to myself. Who knows? Point is: we have a deal. Me and this life. I do things the hard way because I am scrappy and I can handle it, and things will eventually work out if I can be patient and stay open/reflective.
Well, I CANT EVEN anymore. There is none left. I am empty. I have NOTHING left to give. I have given so much of myself there is nothing left for my family, my friends, or FOR ME.
Entry 6 (February 2016, The Day I Retreated)
I am tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of being strong. Tired of being tired. I am 30, in love, and ready to be a wife and mother. It’s always been my one true dream, but it took some time. I threw my entire being into work while I waited it out. Good Work. Meaningful Work that brought out real feelings of love and joy and human connection. It turned out I am also good at it, and I enjoy it. Despite all the misery. I still find a way to enjoy it.
But it gets harder everyday. It sucks right now. More than it has ever sucked. It is sucking the life from me. I don’t even recognize myself. I am a shell. I think back to when I was 7-12-16-24-27-today…all significant years, for me, linked by one commone theme: genuine love for learning, a desire to do good deeds for others, and an exhausting amount of energy, enthusiasm, and hustle.
But I am tired, yet I can’t sleep. I am deeply troubled. I have seen so many disturbing things. Black Mold. No books. Poisoned Water. Hidden Money going to CEOs, illegal hirings, corrupt administrators gone rogue, angry parents out to ruin careers, hurt kids, angry kids, angry employees who get fired for having opinions. Kids rioting. Kids chanting at teachers. Teachers cowering under desks. Tears in the classroom. Outbursts. Fighting. Violence. Police. Chaos.
I exist in fear everyday. I exist in anger. I exist in hurt.
Entry 8 (November 2016, The Day I Left it Behind For Real)
I write for me. I share for me. I need to be okay and ideas and the communication of thoughts in some interactive fashion is soothing and cathartic. I am so lonely for human connection beyond my household and work. I miss home and my family so much. So I go to the internet. And now, to writing.
Like now, as I sit awake listening to night sounds and watching the cats. And thinking. And piecing it all together. Finally. I am removed enough, now, that I can. It could be a whole book, by the time I get it out of me. IT NEEDS OUT!
Some background: I made the decision to go back to school to be a teacher after leaving a very promising career in the historical field. I was on the PhD track. It was a no-brainer! I loved my grad assistantship so much I had to have more! But since I made that decision, so much has changed. Rapid change in the world of educational “reform.” It’s time to get back to basics. It’s time to return to our roots.
Entry 9 (Today, January 15, 2016, The Day I Found Peace)
Timing is everything. So I wait. Not patiently. Do I Quit? No. I can’t. What does that even look or feel like? How do I even start? Do I just dig deeper than I already have? Do I jump ship? I don’t know yet. But I do know I still love teaching. The Kids. First. Always!
I am damaged. Not broken. But scarred. And healing takes time. It has begun, but it is a long process. 2 steps forward, 1 back.
I feel degraded. I feel angry. Sad. Deeply hurt.
But still hopeful. Because my go-to emotion is hope. My go-to action is WORK.
What I am left with: It’s not me. It’s not personal. It just feels that way because teaching IS personal, for me. Of course it is! It is for all good teachers. And should be! But I need to feel whole, again. There is a large GAPING hole in my heart where there was once only optimism and enthusiasm/passion. I only long to fill it by teaching and advocating for kids.
What I still can’t shake are the facts. The events. The 4 principals my first year. The almost complete turnover in staff. The lack of resources and support. The corruption. The violations of law. The lack of empathy. Compassion. Trust
Mostly I miss having a classroom of my own to go to everyday and to teach the kids in the way I know to be best for them based on curriculum and researched best practices. And empathy. I can’t shake them.
And that is okay. It’s my belief that they are worth it. THIS CAREER WILL BE WORTH IT. I have faith. I had the calling and I am still listening. So I wait. And write. I swallow pride. I sacrifice. I ask B to sacrifice with me. I stress. I feel guilt.
But I wait.
Entry 10 (Also Today, The Take Away)
SPREAD THE WORD! PRIVATIZATION (ie Charter Schools) IS CRAP. IT IS CORRUPT. IT IS A FALLACY.
Believe me, your friend. Believe me. I don’t lie. I can’t. I am terrible at it. And I am factual/logical. Writing allows me to be.
No well-meaning person or qualified professional should have to endure what I have. I am no martyr, but I do believe my story may help others. I HOPE it does, anyway.
We have work to do if we want to restore education to its rightful place in society. We need to get back to basics! We know what works. It was never broken! So what is up with all the “fixing”?
If you can relate to what I am saying, please validate my words by telling others what you read here. By sharing it with the world.
Above all else, thank your teachers and love your kids. OUR kids. I will end with this: I believe anything worth having is working hard for. And waiting for, if necessary. True faith and hope requires patience with life. Because life is infinitely patient with us.
Self-love and self-care know no similar timeline. They are not so patient. They need to happen DAILY in order to be equipped to allow life to happen on its own terms. We are so small compared to this big ol life we all share together on our wonderful planet.
Deferring a Dream is just that-waiting. Having faith. Patience. Hope.
It doesn’t mean it won’t come true. When it’s the right time. The right place.
According to Life’s Plan. Not ours.
So, if all you can be today is a work-in-progress that is not so great at being patient, be a good version of that.
Be Good. Do Good.