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THOMPSON: Reflections

Americanoffice Spring break is always a time for reflection and Alexander asked me to extend my musings to the experience of blogging. My father taught me to never "tease" anyone, but that "kidding" is a compliment you pay a friend. As a small-time lobbyist, my influence came from translating complex issues into simple yet meaningful stories for the power brokers, but I also knew the right time for a joke that was just dirty enough for the occasion. And my students have since honed my trash talking skills. The challenge in blogging is to use humor in a constructive way, without being able to read peoples’ body language.

Britishoffice Blogging and subsequent e-mails have convinced me that many newcomers to education reform actually believe that a school with a poverty rate of 50% is "high poverty," and not the national average, and that we know how to replicate the experience of charters to turnaround the toughest neighborhood schools. Some simply do not understand the real-world effects of "the tipping point," and do not realize that a class where the majority of students have a paper trail documenting their "at risk" status is fundamentally different from a class where 20 to 30% of students are similarly troubled. Even some educators in KIPP do not acknowledge that they were born on second base, thinking that they had hit a double.

We watch the sitcoms "The Office" because everyone has experience with abusive bosses, and yet some in the edusphere want to hand the power over the careers of teachers over to "reformers" with the emotional intelligence of the Ricky Gervais and Steve Carrel characters.

In my daily life, I’m never defensive about my position as classroom teacher - one reason why I haven’t taken opportunities to return to more respected professions is because there are very few people who can do what I can do in the classroom, even though there plenty of policy analysts capable of working on the adult side of education. In the public sphere, however, I must defend my colleagues from "reformers" who want to upgrade teaching by taking away our due process rights, the expectation that contracts will be upheld, and even our 1st Amendment rights.

I have to close with a classroom observation. I did not realize until Friday night listening to NPR that the  NCAA Basketball Tournaments had begun. Ordinarily, during the week before spring break (supposedly 9 weeks testing week) the games are blaring from the televisions in nearly every classroom in the school. Monday morning was no different for me because the kids knew which teachers would be able to conduct class, but by noon the student body realized that there would be no "free days" this week, anywhere in the building. They did not take it well and the afternoon classes were missing 2/3rds of their students and for the first time this year we experienced the complete breakdown of control. This time, however, the worst of the most disruptive were suspended for a couple of days, and we were able to "have school" until Friday afternoon. At the end of every class, I could exhort "Have you ever seen a week like this? How good does it feel to cross the finish line with your head held high? Come back in a week for the final push and let’s turn this place around!" - John Thompson


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