Welcome back to my blog, New World of School. It is an invitation for you to join me in changing the system of education in the United States and beyond. In my last post I shared my education and experiences which have brought me to a position of acting upon my critical analysis of the educational system. In this post I will share why I left a tenured university associate professor position for a 4th grade teaching position.
Work in the Clarke University Education Department fulfilled me. My predecessors and colleagues innovated and labored to give preservice teachers the best possible preparation for their teaching careers. My teaching partner and I met with our students for four hours each day at an elementary school, where they learned content and strategies which they immediately applied in their work with the elementary students. Courses were blocked and taken concurrently to allow this Professional Development School (PDS) approach. I felt anchored in both higher education and elementary education and truly loved the job. However, as I read books, listened to podcasts, and spoke to people frustrated with the educational system, I felt called to help change it. It seemed that my own education, ideas, and experiences had empowered me to take this challenge.
In a blog post entitled Lessons from Chomsky: Some Things I’ve Learned from his Writings, Nathan J. Robinson wrote:
The problem with utopians is that they’re not practical, and the problem with pragmatists is that they often lack vision. If you dream of elaborate perfect societies, but you don’t remain anchored in real-world realities and have a sense of how to get things done, all of your dreams are useless and you may even end up destroying the progress you have already made for the sake of an ideal you’ll never reach. But if you don’t have a strong sense of what the ultimate long-term goal is, you’re not going to know whether you’re moving closer to it or not.
These words echoed thoughts bouncing around in my head as I imagined “perfect” learning environments, schedules, content, and more. I felt I knew what learning should look like and how a “utopian” school would run, but I needed to put myself in a position to “get things done.” The position requirements I had determined to be integral for changing the system of education were: 1.) It must be in a public school. 2.) The school must have a high population of students on free-or-reduced lunch, the socioeconomic indicator for schools. 3.) Teachers must have autonomy over classroom decisions. 4.) The school administrator must be supportive of change efforts.
My public-school requirement lies with the fact that if I wanted to change the system, I would need to do it from within. Many private schools are progressive and innovative but operate by different sets of rules and have more freedoms than do public schools. In addition, there exist pockets of greatness within the nation’s public schools, but my goal is to have systemic change that permeates through all schools.
It is no surprise that schools serving the poorest students rank the lowest on accountability measures. I was drawn to these schools because I wanted changes to positively impact students who need the most. Also, if my ideas could work in the most challenging of schools, then they would likely also work in less challenging schools.
This career move wasn’t about a job. It was about “anchoring myself in real-world realities” to “get things done.” So, when I interviewed, I made sure to ask questions regarding mandated curriculum and teacher autonomy. I shared with the interview team a document I had prepared entitled What one Could Expect from me in a Classroom, which listed ideas I had planned to implement. After being offered the position, I met with the principal to confirm non-negotiables before signing a contract. She communicated a strong commitment to change that benefits students and a focus on what really matters. From my interview, up to this day, I have been blessed to be supported and encouraged by a smart, kind, and open-minded administrator.
I believe everything comes to one at the right moment. I am where I am supposed to be. I will make a difference in the world of education.
Robinson, N.J., (2018). Lessons from Chomsky: Some Things I’ve Learned from his Writings. Current Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/12/lessons-from-chomsky?fbclid=IwAR04D9gNJgJFKrKBdRApp4ZUDsnKwva5ohmhpm2c8MXJRFO3Qb8NXomEKO8