What a wonderful world… it almost was

In a recent post, I shared a few of the very difficult realities of being a dedicated teacher in a high needs school. But I don’t want to leave the impression that it was all depressing.

Some of the happiest moments of my teaching life were spent at Broad Street High School in Shelby, Mississippi, where some courageous administrators attempted to set up teacher-leader roles within the district. I say attempted because neither my employers nor I were sure what that meant when we first started.

Initially, the administration wanted to simply anoint certain persons to be the Lead Teachers, but later I convinced them to redesign it into a teacher leadership program selected by our peers throughout the district. Once they accepted the new design, I resigned my position and reapplied for the team under the new guidelines. My principal told me I was crazy. “You’re nuts! You’re going to take a cut in pay and reapply? What if they decide not to give it to you just out of meanness or something?” But I believed in my colleagues’ integrity and their intelligence. I laid my credentials on the table and was selected for the team.

Now, I was a teacher leader.

Originally, I taught classes half the day. The other half I spent working with the teachers in my building individually and in groups around whatever topics needed attention. Most often I was helping teachers figure out how to use the new computer software we were required to use. One of the bright spots of being an impoverished rural school was that we qualified early for technology grants that put Internet access and computers in all our classrooms. Downside, of course, was that little or no training for faculty came with it.

So we would help each other.

We developed lesson plans. We worked together on revising our own curriculum guides. We designed our own professional development, including putting together a database of skills and talents from among the teachers in our own district and using them as the trainers for these sessions. Morale went up; test scores went up; parents’ confidence in our school system went up.

And then….

Someone decided to hire a consultant company. I won’t give all the gory details here, but basically, the consultants convinced the administration to throw out the work done by the teachers and replace it with the company’s curriculum, techniques, and professional development. Or as they told me, “After all, they [the consultants] are experts; you all are just teachers.” No, The real experts are in classrooms around the country making a difference in children’s lives.

No wonder the recent MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, and other reports, concur that there is an exodus out of the teaching profession (and increasing difficulty in recruitment) due not so much to low salaries as to poor working conditions and lack of administrative support.