This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Please welcome f to the Notebook blog. If you’ve read our comments, you’ve probably read a lot of f’s thoughts already. Now, you’ll see full blog posts from f.
The Notebook is making a temporary exception to its normal practice of publishing only signed blog posts. We do so in order to highlight an articulate voice representing an important constituency in the local education dialogue.
F, a Philadelphia school administrator whose identity is known to the Notebook, explains blogging anonymously at the end of this introduction.
I’ve been in education well over 30 years, roughly half that time as a classroom teacher and half as a principal. My career as an educator has been rooted in the belief that the work of a teacher is a vital public service. I am an unabashed supporter of public education. I see our public schools as the means through which we support our children in developing the skills that will assist them to be successful and productive adults. Further, I see our schools as community centers that unify us as a people and prepare our children to be active and responsible citizens of our democratic society.
Young and crazy in love with being a teacher was how it all started for me. I was fresh out of college and eager to have my own classroom. I was going to change the world. I was going to be the best teacher ever. I poured myself into my work and the work soon became my life. I was always thinking about and talking about my kids, my lessons, and my school. The thrill of mastering my profession was an intoxicating experience. My focus was on the classroom and the children that were before me. I didn’t think much about educational policies or governance as I was growing up as a teacher. I trusted that my school district leadership would do the right thing in taking care of these matters.
In time, my life as an urban educator became a more sobering experience. The challenges were many and the obstacles were numerous. I learned that the general public’s regard for the work of teachers was minimal. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about teaching and schools. Too often the opinions that I heard were full of disturbing stereotypes and prejudices. Increasingly I was troubled by how easily people could write off as failures, the children, families and teachers that I work with every day.
There are many educators who like me have devoted themselves to the work of educating all of our society’s children. Many of us have lived our professional lives in hard places. Places where resources are scarce and problems abound. This doesn’t mean that our schools are failures. Schools are communities of people and I believe in the worth of every person. The people with whom I teach and learn are not failures. They are however, people who are challenged by the inequalities they face on a daily basis.
Although all of the negatives that are referenced in the stereotypes of our schools have happened at some time or another, they do not define us. Yes, there are children whose behavior greatly disrupts the instructional activities of their school. Parents acting poorly or not acting at all can be problematic. Violent acts can and do rock our schools.
In some schools, unfortunate events happen more often than in others. We who live in and love our schools deal with the adversities that confront us. We move ahead with stubborn determination, step by step. We do what we do without great fanfare, and we don’t typically talk publicly about the problems we face. We are protective of our children and our community. We are focused on doing the best job that we can. Opening up opportunities for our children is what we do.
So it is with great surprise and sadness that I have witnessed the increasing tendency of our society to scapegoat teachers. The attempts to disempower, disregard, and disrespect teachers within the School District of Philadelphia by our own leadership have become intolerable to me. Remaining silent about the increasingly destructive policies that have been crafted to guide the governance of our public schools is no longer an option for me.
I have been offered the opportunity to speak out regarding the issues that face our school district by the staff of the Notebook. This is an opportunity that I feel obligated to accept. There is a prevailing sense of fear on the part of the employees of this school district to speak publicly about the direction in which we are heading as a public institution. The top-down management style of our senior leadership team fosters toxic school environments. Dr. Ackerman’s point of view that teachers and principals must “earn” the right to be heard and to participate in instructional decisions by first raising standardized test scores, further encourages silence. This is unacceptable. We must have the courage to speak the truth to those we entrust to lead us. In a democracy everyone is responsible for the common good. If we are to be true to the principles of our democratic society, we the people must insist that our leaders be accountable to us. We must expect them to act in a manner that protects the rights of all members of our society. Good leaders do not encourage fear. Great leaders listen to the people.
I have requested that my identity not be revealed at this time. I am conflicted by this request. I speak of being fearless, yet I seek to remain anonymous. I realize this sends a mixed message. However for the time being I have to think of the well being of my school community. I do not wish to create negative consequences for them as a result of my actions. To identify myself is to identify my school community. This is a situation that I intend to resolve within the next few months, at which time I will be able to speak freely in my own name.