Saturday, June 05, 2010

Three who left the school building

Teaching in U.S. public schools isn't a job or just a career; it's a lifestyle. Those unfamiliar with the work envy teachers their summers off and Xmas holidays. But what comes with the job are 10-12 hrs./day and weekends and holidays spent preparing lesson plans, grading papers and filling out forms. Plus, summer hours preparing for the coming year. For a starting teacher in Denver this works out to be $15/hr. With a master's it goes up to $16.50. Excluded from this is what can easily be $3k out-of-pocket that doesn't get reimbursed. We're not in it for the money; we even pay to be a teacher.

In this Great Recession, having any job is good. I know because I'm presently out of work and seeking a new position with such ridiculously low pay. Like Joe Navarro below, teaching is my passion and calling.

Navarro's letter is a great overall treatment of what's wrong with how the country educates our children. Given the direction of the education discourse nationwide, what he writes about California is significant in that it will likely spread to encompass the remainder of the country. That's his letter's importance.

I won't summarize here my last three years working in one Denver inner city school; maybe I'll write a novel about it one day. I'll just tell you about one student who wasn't one of my bilingual students.

Let's call him Pacifico, because his name is antithetical to his school life and role in it. Pacifico's small for his age, white as a snowflake, unassuming, and worse, sports the thick coke-bottle glasses that should have been outlawed decades ago. I never witnessed any of Pacifico's disruptive behavior, but staff would tell me about various incidents. I've no reason to doubt so many testaments.

I'd often see Pacifico sitting waiting in the office
for the principal--in trouble again for hitting, cussing, throwing something, somewhere. I'd talked to him a couple of times in passing, but when I saw him repeatedly eating alone in the cafeteria one week, I went over to him. I assumed he'd been separated from others because of his lunchroom behavior.

"Why are you sitting alone? You being punished?"
"No, I don't like being with the other kids; they pick on me."
"You don't want to sit with your friends?"
"I don't have any."

After that I'd occasionally talk with him, advising him that he at least needed to learn how to stay out of trouble. Sometimes I'd just wish him a good morning--this to a six/seven-year-old who seldom seemed to have few good mornings in his school life. He always acknowledged me, sometimes even breaking out with a crack of a smile, but not often.

My final week of school, having joined the ranks of the not-coming-back-next-year, I tended to avoid staff gatherings and talking with anyone, but on the final day I had to go through the office to hang up my room keys for the last time.

Pacifico was there, possibly not in trouble. He came up close, looked me in the face. "I'm going to miss you." He hugged me like we'd always been the best of buddies, now parting, the message being that he too was leaving.

I don't know that Pacifico hugged everyone that day. Or only me. It doesn't matter. Nor do I know where he's going. Like Navarro below, I don't even know where I'm going.

I do know that should Pacifico grow up to be a sociopathic Columbiner and enter my school, his aim will at least hesitate when it turns on me. On the other hand, he may carry the memory of our moments as something positive that eventually contributes to his not entering a school in such a fashion.

Joe Navarro will tell you now about his torment of retiring as a teacher. I won't, and not because I'm nowhere near retirement. It will be because $15-16 an hour is worth it when it comes with the benefits of Pacifico moments. I just gotta figure out a way to still educate our children, what Navarro managed to do for so many years.

Excerpts of Joe Navarro's letter:

Dear Friends, I have come to an important decision. I have accepted early retirement from my school district. My conscience is at a crossroad. Teaching has been my passion and calling. I can no longer deliver the methods of instruction as prescribed by my school district, the state of California and federal mandates.

When I began teaching there were still ideals that included teaching to the whole child, bilingual/bicultural education, content mastery, equality, quality education, developing children into problem solvers and critical thinkers. Since then, the language has been hijacked by politically conservative think tanks and politicians. The quest for quality teaching has been replaced by the quest for best test scores. Scripted lesson plans, rote memorization, English-only education, drill and skill instruction and overzealous test preparation now dominate teaching.

"Education reform" has tapped into the righteous sentiments of people of color who want education to be equal for all nationalities. Phrases like tougher, more rigorous, higher, run schools using the business model, etc. have fooled people into believing that the only problem with education has been that we have gotten too soft on kids to compete internationally.

High performing schools in affluent communities teach critical thinking skills and problem solving, while people of color and poor people receive higher doses of rote memorization and drill and skill instruction.

Current U.S. standards are high. The problem is that there is a double standard of how education is delivered to schools. No one wants to deal with issues like underfunded poor people and people of color; racist policies like zero tolerance; eliminating bilingual/bicultural education or whitening the curriculum.

Paolo Freire argued for a critical pedagogy education system that teaches children how to read, write and do math, but also teaches them to be analytical, critical thinkers and grow up to improve society.
I have defied policies by teaching critical thinking skills, art and culture. My hands are tied in the classroom.

I do not know what is next. It is a bittersweet reality for me. I am also uneasy now that I do not have a job. What's next? I don't know.
--Joe Navarro

To read Navarro's entire letter or if you want to leave him a comment, I encourage you to go the El Tecolote website here to do so.

Es todo, hoy


Annette Leal Mattern said...

Dear Cousin-
I am so sorry to learn this news, not only because of your skill at awakening children to learning but because this is your journey…your destiny. When I had the honor to visit your classroom, I envied - not your summers off- but your ability to mold the lives of children who had no idea of their own potential. What a profound footprint on humanity, I thought. What must it be like to know that your words and your spirit could change the trajectory of so many families, so many futures, so many Pacificos? For the sake of us all, I must believe that you will come back.

strongwindsahead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Great parting thoughts Rudy. Navarro's letter really does a good job of summing it up. It disgusts me the way that bureaucrats will twist the words of social justice movements to promote policies that are just perpetuating inequities, not providing quality education for everyone regardless of their background.

Rebel Girl said...

Thanks for sharing this -- with affection and abiding respect~~~

Unknown said...

con respecto

Joe Navarro said...

Thank you for posting this. Before I moved to California I lived in Denver. My daughters attended school there and my wife and I were parent and student advocates. I taught one year in Denver. I thought that becoming a teacher would allow me to make important contributions to the well-being of students. But over the year with NCLB and now Race To The Top, it is clear that teaching has been hijacked and has degenerated to the condition that it's in now, only intensified with the economy.
--Joe Navarro

Anonymous said...

I read your comment regarding your loss of your educational employment. My mother worked in a hospital kitchen beginning at $1.00 per hour. My father was a custodian in DPS starting at $5000 per year. My father-in-law worked in a lumber yard for $1.00 per hour and my mother-in-law cleaned houses for slave wages. I worked as a ditch-digger and later moved up to factory work for a wage that I'm too embarrassed to state. The work of all teachers is truly 'el trabajo de dios' and I've realized just as my bosses, my teachers and company owners have told me, 'I'm a piece of shit'. Why do you equate your worth to children in dollars? The working-class has always been measured in dollars, que no?