I wanted to thank Phil for writing a thoughtful piece that addresses the climate at Hudson in a way that seeks to push our school forward. It has, without question, been a difficult year. I agree that our enemy is frustration. As educators and school workers, we are tasked with providing the best possible public education alongside overwhelming obstacles such as poverty, mass incarceration, and schools that are never provided with the funding and support we desperately need to carry out our mission.
Complaining, although cathartic and at times very necessary, is certainly not the solution. Neither is blaming co-workers. In times like these, we need to have each others' backs the most - even when we disagree about pedagogical strategies and decisions made in the school. We also must recognize that the teaching conditions of some do not mirror the teaching conditions of others.
So if we are faced often with overwhelming odds and blaming others is not a solution, what can we do to further the goals of providing quality education in a way that is sustainable for educators? I'm not sure I agree with the conclusions Linder reached in his post. For me, in my guidance practice, I recommend using the power of positive thinking as an important coping mechanism and survival skill. But coping and surviving in unjust conditions is not the same as changing those conditions. They merely provide an effective means to exist within them.
I believe that our students' learning conditions are directly tied to our working conditions. Mayoral Control, which was established under Bloomberg and continues under DeBlasio stripped all local decision making and voice from the school level. It means that parents, students and school workers have virtually no input in the direction of public education in New York City or even our own school. Where do you go if you want to become a consortium school? Where do you go if you need resources to fund more restorative justice programs in schools? Where do you go if you want a more robust health clinics in your school? Where do parents go if they want to opt their children out from standardized tests? What if a group of students at one high school decided that they did not want to use Regents exams as a graduation requirement? What if a teacher is being threatened with discontinuance and the entire staff disagrees? None of these decisions are made democratically in the Department of Education. These decisions are not up for a vote despite the premise of public education (funded by all of our tax dollars) being a pillar of democracy.
The hierarchical structure inherent to Mayoral control is how the Department of Education is currently choosing to govern. This can help us make sense of our local district school governance methods as well. These are larger structural obstacles that the power of positive thinking cannot think away. These are the obstacles that, while we are using our personal coping skills to get through the days and years, must be confronted and challenged collectively. This is why I believe in unions. This is why I believe in distributive leadership and why I think it matters if teachers are also politically active outside the classroom.
Although understanding some of the larger forces at work also seems overwhelming and daunting, for me, it is what makes the work I do here sustainable. I plan to be a guidance counselor for decades (yikes!). Average teacher tenure in this city is five years (double yikes). We have to figure out the best ways to support each other at Hudson through thick and thin. That will mean everyone being willing to have difficult conversations, hear each other out and, most of all, provide the support and political clarity necessary to sustain our work. I think this must be true at all levels - from teachers to admin to counselors and school aides. We each have a voice that deserves to be heard. And we need to create more collective spaces where these important conversations can happen.
Thanks again to Phil for kicking off this important discussion in the PIE. Hopefully others can continue to contribute.