June 19 — 3:38 pm, 2012

Explosions: Looking back at the past school year

My education world has exploded this school year. I feel like this is true for a lot of teachers across the nation, and especially in Philadelphia. Not that each year of teaching doesn’t bring about pain and change, but this year was something else. And I mean explosion in a lot of different ways. Some explosions were bad, some explosions were fantastic.

Ex.plo.sion – n. a violent and destructive shattering or blowing apart of something

I remember days not too long ago when teachers could look into catalogs of school supplies and furniture and say, “I would like that one, please.”

Clearly, those days are gone.

At the end of former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s reign, the reality that the District had spent poorly and planned horribly hit this city like a bomb. The Knudsen/Boston Consulting Group plan could just as well have been an incendiary device.

We are clearly in the midst of great upheaval in our School District of Philadelphia, with the outlook uncertain and possibly grim. I’ve stayed up more than one night thinking about what to do and how to advocate for a school system I believe in. My wife and I have had unpleasant conversations about leaving Philadelphia, a city we both love, if certain agendas come to pass.

I take comfort in the advice and leadership from friends like Ron Whitehorne and true children’s advocates like Helen Gym. Although the outcome of “reorganization” is unknown at this juncture, I can feel good about participating in the fight to save a truly public school system.

Ex.plo.sion – n. a sudden political or social upheaval

When I was 18, it was practically unheard of for anyone to say teaching was anything short of a noble endeavor, a public good. Having parents, aunts, and grandparents in the field definitely helped form that viewpoint.

Today, there is certainly a shift away from teaching as a career, or service, or even a respectable occupation. I will never get used to, or understand, those who view my profession as a bunch of summers off, future pensioners living high on the hog.

I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want the right to collectively bargain or why anyone would describe that right as crippling our economy. What bothers me most in the current political winds is the notion that there are “free-market” principles at the ready to save public education if we only let them.

If I have learned one thing while teaching in Philadelphia, it is that those with the best ideas about education are the children, parents, teachers, and school and neighborhood community members that are on the front lines. I am hoping that winds of change shift because I know where my strong foundation is.

Ex.plo.sion – n. a rapid or sudden increase in amount or extent

I made a lot of friends, allies, and co-conspirators this year. Somehow I found the time to be involved with PhilaSoup, EduCon, CitySchoolsStories, Philadelphia Teacher Leadership Personal Learning Community (we’re working on the name), Bainbridge House, and now the Philadelphia Writing Project.

It feels really, really good to know that I have such a broad spectrum of folks I can lean on, learn from, learn with, and, most important, make sense of the crazy times we live in. I am a much wiser person, and surely a better teacher, because of educators and activists that have let me into their worlds. Whether you helped me understand how to save a school, promote innovative teachers, realize what leadership means, or just made me better at my craft, I am thankful to each and every one of you.

I’d like to thank the Notebook for playing a huge part in my successes as an educator here and always, always informing me of the not-so-fun explosions that take place. Of all the great education groups I’ve been in contact with, I am the most proud and humble to be part of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

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