"A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Monday, February 28, 2011

Proud To Be A Philadelphia Teacher

Last Friday, I had the pleasure and honor of attending the Teacher Action Group Rally for Public Education in front of our (yes, our) administration building at 440 North Broad Street. When my colleagues and I arrived at a little before 4:00 PM, School District Police stood on the top step of the building looking imposing. Of course, they need not have worried, the rally that followed was passionate and spirited but respectful. I believe it showed the best of Philadelphia: an ethnic, racial, and class mix of community members, students, parents, and teachers all coming together to support a crucial part of our city--public education. The young leaders of the Teacher Action Group (TAG) spoke about our community cause (having a true voice in what happens to OUR schools) and read a supportive statement from Jerry Jordan, the president of the PFT. Other teachers and community members spoke eloquently about the impact and meaning of a true public education--the PUBLIC must be involved. After a few speeches, a young man who happens to be a junior at Audenried High School (slated for takeover by a charter company with no community input) spoke. Maurice Johnson, an articulate, earnest young man that any parent or teacher would be proud to call their own, spoke quite movingly about what his school meant to him. He rightly pointed out that his school--about to be given away lock, stock, and 55 million dollar barrel to Kenny Gamble's charter company--was NOT a failure, had not even been given a chance to prove it yet to prove what they know. The juniors in the new Audenried are the first class in that school--and as such have not yet taken the PSSAs which are given in March. (Ironically, although there is no data to prove the new Audenried a failure, there is plenty of data to question the effectiveness of Gamble's Universal Company). Maurice pointed out--rightly from a student's point-of-view--that when kids hear Arlene Ackerman call their school a failure, they hear themselves being called failures. Now this may not be what the "award-winning" Dr. Ackerman intends when she throws the word failure around so blithely, but it is what children hear. Her bullying, top-down, and ham-handed approach to school reform (many can agree we need school improvement) leaves the educational community feeling bullied and bruised. How much more effective could these "reforms" be if students, teachers, and community members without million dollar federal grants were asked what THEY need, what THEY want. Maurice and his classmates (as well as the rest of us) would like to find out. The most barn-burning, rabble-rousing (and I mean that in the best democratic sense) speech of the day came from firebrand retired principal Frank Murphy. Murphy pointed out in a fervent speech that a great leader has many collaborative and communication skills that our current leader seems to lack. If we ever got to choose someone to run our school, Frank would be my candidate. He knows what it is to be a true collaborative educator, not just a "boss". We wound down at about 5:00 PM, happy that-even if we had not been heard by the "bosses", we had stated our piece. Even as we stood in the bitter high winds last Friday, I saw colleagues, students, and community members both familiar and unknown to me whose dedication to children, and schools, and communities made me proud to be a part of this great city where American freedom was born and nurtured.