Those Teachers Are Also In Napa
The San Francisco Chronicle published an article that was intended to pull aside the NCLB curtain, but ending up revealing something else entirely. Napa Valley High is a California Distinguished School that is also (gasp!) in PI because they aren't so distinguished when it comes to educating English Language Learners (ELLs). The steps the school is taking to reform instruction are causeing all kinds of consternation and outrage. Here's the big-time, haymaker pull-quote:
"There are a lot of people living good lives in this country who aren't able to write a cohesive paragraph and don't know grammar. I'm more concerned about them being able to put themselves in someone else's shoes - which is the essence of 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' I'm more concerned with them being able to feel compassion and to question authority in a constructive way, which is the essence of 'Night.' I'm more concerned with them looking at the nature of friendship, which is at the heart of 'Of Mice and Men.' " -H. Zunin, 18 year veteran
Maybe some of this is sheer socio-economic preservation, the desire not to do anything that may alter the pecking order of life in the 707. More likely, this is a rather dramatic example of the prevailing misunderstanding of the nature of public school teaching. See, you can't, like, just do what ya want, as if you were firmly entrenched in a small liberal arts college* where the leaves turn pretty colors in the fall. There is a duty to provide exactly the nature and extent of education the young people who occupy your desks need. I hesitate to use the words ethical responsibility, but it pretty much doesn't matter if subject-predicate knocks your socks off, it's your job to get it done. If they need it, teach it.
Rather than showing the futility and absurdity of NCLB, the article illustrates its importance and ultimate success. Does anyone think the Brown kids over at Napa were on anyone's radar screen before they suddenly became a statistically significant AYP subgroup? Anyone think there was a single school structure in place to support those kids prior to 2002? I don't know, maybe there was, but NCLB ensures that, at the very least, there always will be. NCLB forces schools that would otherwise tolerate inequity of performance, inequity of access, inequity of outcome to reform. NCLB forces these schools to actually attempt to educate everyone, even the children and grandchildren of the people upon whose under-paid backs you built your wealth.
That said, we owe Ms. Zunin some measure of respect. Her actual professional environment required her to do a number of things -- teach ELLs to read and write, for example -- that she found either abhorrent, beyond her abilities, or both. Rather than join the ranks of shit-bag teachers who sign up for assignments they cannot or will not perform, she quit, left, presumably to a small or charter school that does a better job at keeping out those pesky Brown kids with all their pesky needy academic profiles. I wish her all the best in her continued zeal to teach BS Standard 1.1: Students will understand empathy, compassion, and friendship through literature they lack the skills to read.
There's a burgeoning generation of teachers teaching the kids Ms. Zunin rejects. They are generally young, or new to the profession, eager to reject the bitterness others try to pass off as wisdom. They have entered into things post-NCLB and are therefore unburdened with memories of the halcyon days of life-changing oboe practice and friendship bracelet construction. They have developed an understanding of their responsibilities that places an emphasis on student results over teacher actions and owns student behavior as a primary function of the effective teacher. They are not afraid to use the phrase educator achievement gap. They embrace this work, even as the coalition of the unwilling swells its ranks with folks who will wring their hands over misunderstood legislation, bolster every boutique school around, and ensure I always get the best deal on car insurance.
*If I were so entrenched, I'd teach:
EN189 The Literature of Men
EN 486 Advanced Fiction Workshop
AS 369 Gender Roles in Pop Music
ED101 Dynamic Instruction
ED743 The History of Piratical Activity in the Caribbean Basin: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Acquisition of Basic Skills in the 6-8 classroom