Is Enthusiasm Enough to Face the Challenges of New Orleans Schools?
Thinking back to the start of last school year, I witnessed new teachers, a few from New Orleans and many who relocated to our city, embark upon what they hoped would be the start of a promising teaching career. Unfortunately, longevity in teaching has been an issue in our city. Some teachers decide to take their pursuits elsewhere and others don’t make the cut to be asked to return. I’ve been blessed to maintain my position, but If this were my experience, I have to admit I’d feel pretty crappy and grumpy about having to possibly relocate once again because things didn’t work out like I had hoped.
I’m left to wonder why it happens and how often this happens. I am especially curious about educators who are members of teacher recruitment programs such as AmeriCorps and Teach For America who enter classrooms with a degree in a field other than education. The New York Times describes Teach for America as, “the education powerhouse that has sent thousands of handpicked college graduates to teach in some of the nation’s most troubled schools.”
“Step into a classroom. Put your talents to work disrupting equity.” -TFA
We need warriors in our classrooms. We are grateful for the commitment from those who step up to the plate, but the preparation: mentally, physically, spiritually, needs to be solid and the ongoing nurturance and support from administrators, needs to be just as comprehensive. While it’s easy to make proclamations of righting injustices and reducing achievement gaps, the task isn’t as easy and carefree as it’s sometimes made out to seem.
Working within a school is hard work. Working within schools like those in NOLA is probably even harder work. What does it really take to get the job done? Mantras have their place and while these positive mindsets are of importance and have a place, they do not capture all that is necessary. Let’s face it; we are up against the monsters of poverty, violence, and other cultural beasts that make New Orleans and it’s families unique. A positive attitude alone won’t outlast the stressors that are associated with the work.
As mentioned in an article from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD):
Countless homeless, foster, low-income, and abused students are enrolled in K–12 schools nationwide. When students with special needs, English language learners (ELLs), and students who’ve been suspended from school are added in, it’s apparent that being a teacher isn’t easy, especially now when teachers are expected to raise test scores at all costs. In fact, today teacher morale—particularly in high-needs schools—is at a 20-year low (MetLife, 2012).
Although controversial, Dr. Christopher Emdin stated the following during an interview with NEA Today:
I just want new educators to understand just how deeply honored they should be to be able to do this work. Once they understand the severity of the work and what they’ve been charged to do, it will be a wonderful place. They must make sure they are going in for the right reasons first.
Additionally, because there is no denying our work is challenging, the ASCD offers the following list on how to support urban teachers:
Be an Involved Administrator
- Make daily connections. Learn every teacher’s first and last name, shake hands when you first meet and greet teachers as they begin and end the school day.
- Have an open door policy so teachers feel comfortable dropping by your office to share ideas.
- Observe new teachers regularly, take notes, and share constructive feedback.
- Recognize new teachers as professionals. Share open and honest conversation about teaching, ask for new teachers’ opinions, and praise their efforts.
Foster New Teachers’ Connections
- Provide preparation time for new teachers to jointly plan curriculum and share ideas.
- Establish an e-mail discussion list, blog, or another discussion forum for new teachers.
- Assign new teachers classrooms in close proximity to one another.
- Inform teachers of readings, workshops, presentations, and continuing education opportunities to support their practice, and encourage teachers from your school to attend together.
Click here to read more of Emdin’s interview regarding his thoughts on education in America.
To read more from ASDC, click here.